How Healthcare Professionals Can Prepare for Flu Season

The last few months of the year mark some beautiful changes in season and bring on the holidays. However, they also mark an increase in cases of the flu. It is possible to get the flu year-round, but staying indoors, and being in closer proximity to other people make it prime flu season.

Flu seasons over the past few years have been particularly dreadful. It’s estimated that 80,000 Americans died of the flu in 2018. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine for the 2017-2018 flu season was 40 percent effective. In the United States, vaccines are developed before flu season officially begins. They are created based on flu activity in Australia and South America where the flu season starts before ours.

Healthcare Professional Risks

Working in the healthcare field means you will most likely encounter more sick people than the average person, so it’s necessary to take precautions and protect yourself and others. Vaccines, especially the flu shot, are important for multiple reasons. Most people associate the flu shot with protecting themselves with active immunity against the disease. However, vaccines also interrupt the chain of infection by preventing spread. This can be even more important for people who work with or around immunocompromised patients. Keep in mind many strains of the influenza virus mutate rapidly, so get vaccinated each season.

4 Types of Influenza

There are actually four types of flu viruses: Influenza A, B, C, and D. Out of those four, only three (Influenza A, B, and C) affect humans (Influenza D primarily affects cattle, according to the CDC).

  • Influenza A is constantly changing and has many subtypes and strains (including H1N1 and H3N2). It typically causes the most intense symptoms and often leads to major outbreaks. Influenza A can also be spread by animals, including wild birds (the avian flu is a strain of A).
  • Influenza B only infects humans and is usually (but not always) less severe than A.
  • Influenza C is also a strictly human virus, but it tends to be milder than A and B, and doesn’t lead to epidemics, per the CDC.

How to Prepare and Prevent

We can’t say it enough, get your flu shot. The flu vaccine contains an inactivated virus. This virus prompts your body’s immune system to create antibodies that fight the real flu virus if you come in contact with it. The vaccine protects against two strains of influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) as well as one to two strains of influenza B, according to the CDC.

Wash your hands and surrounding surfaces consistently. Scrub your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. The flu is primarily spread through coughing, sneezing, or speaking in close proximity. It can also survive on contaminated surfaces for 2 to 8 hours. Be aware of bed rails, doorknobs, computer keyboards, countertops, faucets, clipboards, and many other objects used often by healthcare professionals.

Staying Healthy

A strong immune system reduces your chances of getting sick, and helps you get better faster if you do wind up catching something. Here are a few simple steps to maintain a healthy immune system:

  • Exercise Regularly: Breaking a sweat promotes good circulation, which helps produce circumvential immune cells in your body. A study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity discovered that people who exercise after receiving flu vaccines had roughly doubled influenza antibodies one month later.
  • Eat Healthy: Taking a large quantity of vitamins C and D may not be the answer to preventing an infection but a healthy well balanced diet can aid your immune system. Stay away from processed food and focus on the whole food isle in the grocery store.
  • Get a Massage: Do you really need a reason? Ok. Stress decreases lymphocytes, white blood cells that help fight off infections like the flu. If you don’t have time for a massage or simply don’t enjoy them, find a relaxing activity to recharge your battery.
  • Go to Bed: During sleep your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection. Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep can impair your body’s ability to make and circulate proteins.

What To Do If You Get the Flu

To be sure you have the flu, get tested with a quick nose swab. If you have been exposed, take some time off. The flu can last longer than a cold and you will need to recuperate. Stay home and away from patients that may have an even worse reaction than you. The quicker you begin treatment, the shorter and less intense your flu will be.

Stock up on staples such as fluids, and tissues. Use paper towels instead of hand towels in the bathroom and opt for paper cups instead of glasses. You will be less likely to spread germs with disposable products.

To protect family and friends, disinfect surfaces you touch regularly, like doorknobs and phones. Don’t be afraid to ask for support or outsource some of your daily to-do’s. Order in some soup or see if a family member can watch your kids. Remember the quicker you begin treatment, the shorter and less intense your flu will be.

When it comes to the flu, the best offense is a good defense. Stay healthy and take care of yourself this season so you can enjoy the weather and festivities.