The winter months are typically thought of as the months for influenza outbreak. The viruses yield an increase in in-patient admissions and/or clinic assessments; and healthcare workers are in contact with patients, harboring these organisms on a regular basis. With that being dually noted, this article proposes strategies for healthcare workers to both protect themselves and to curtail the transmission of disease.

  1. Vaccination: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) recommend that all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza.
    • In long-term care facilities, there is an increased recommendation for staff to be vaccinated.
    • In the acute care arena, higher vaccination levels among staff have been associated with a lower risk hospital-acquired influenza cases (Influenza Vaccination Information for Health Care Workers).
    • Similarly, the influenza virus, unlike many other viruses, “drifts and shifts” annually-hence these mutations make annual vaccination a “must.”  Simply put, the vaccination from a year ago is not affective against the contemporary influenza virus because this year’s “bug” is different from last years.
    • The CDC and vaccine manufacturers construct annual vaccines for the coming season (Influenza Vaccination Information for Health Care Workers).
  2.  Education:  Educating staff about hand washing and the importance of vaccination is also warranted.  In essence, education is the catalyst for healthy education and behavior modification
  3. Hand Washing: Without question, hand washing, is the easiest, most effective way to protect oneself against the spread of germs-in the case, influenza
    • Supportive Care: Similarly, wearing protective equipment and adhering to good nutrition are also warranted to protect against the spread of the virus.
    • Implement Droplet Precautions: For anyone suspected or confirmed of having the flu, droplet precautions are warranted.
    • Respiratory Hygiene: Covering the nose when coughing or sneezing is also important-in conjunction with proper, meticulous hygiene. Similarly, wearing a surgical mask or maintain a safe distance from the patient is advised when either the patient and/or the guest have “flu-like” symptoms.
  4. The Admission:  In any setting, when a new admission incoming patient has suspected flu-like symptoms, he or she should be triaged into a separate environment. Similarly, for those with the flu, ant-virals are advised as antibiotics are ineffective.​
  5. Facility Administrators:  It is important for administrators to be proponents of vaccinations and to support staff who do refrain from working when they are sick.
  6. The Treatment:  If one is confirmed or suspected to have the flu, typically anti-virals such as oseltamivir or zanamivir is recommended as early as possible
  7. Testing:  If influenza is suspected, treatment should not be delayed. There are several diagnostic tests that can be used to identify the infection. However, the sensitivity of these tests does vary. Essentially:
    • Specimens should be collected as early in the illness as possible (ideally within 48-72 hours of illness onset)
    • The manufacturer’s instructions on acceptable specimen handling should be followed.
    • ​Negative results should further be evaluated with confirmatory tests
  8. Report: Upon confirmation of a positive case of “the flu” this data should then be appropriately reported to both the organization’s administration and then to the local Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  These are only several suggestions. It is noteworthy to reiterate that prevention is paramount. The virus as a creative way of mutating and strengthening itself, and we, as healthcare providers, have a responsibility to “arm and defend” ourselves-while in essence, protecting our patients. Furthermore, while these suggestions are geared towards those in direct contact with patients, they are intended/advisable for all staff and/or visitors. Everyone has a role in prevention.