If you typically forego a flu shot, last year's flu statistics should change your mind. Late 2017 and early 2018 saw a record-breaking number of flu-associated hospitalizations, and 165 pediatric deaths. While the CDC doesn't speculate on what a given future flu season will look like, the yearly mantra remains the same – this year, people must take vaccination and other preventative measures seriously to limit the spread of this common, dangerous infection.
There is even more to think about as a medical caregiver who is in close contact with sick people every day. Some of these people may be immunocompromised and more susceptible to illness, or they may be being treated for the flu and vectors for transmission.
Knowing how to approach the flu is key to minimizing its spread, so keeping in mind the following factors will help you better protect yourselves and your patients as flu season gets underway.
The Flu Timeline
Flu season officially begins in October, and the CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated by the end of October. It takes approximately two weeks for the body to achieve maximum protection after the shot, so getting your vaccine well before everyone starts traveling for Thanksgiving is important.
Being sick for the holidays is no fun, but it's not uncommon. That's because peak flu season kicks off in December and gets worse from there, with the cold, dark month of February being the worst month for the flu.
Even after February, though, the flu still tends to crop up significantly until as late as the beginning of May. Hygiene practices remain important in care environments long after the peak flu season
Where the Flu Likes to Hide
A big part of keeping down flu infections is, of course, minimizing the amount of virus there is in an environment. Because of this, it's important to understand that:
•The flu virus likes hanging out on hard surfaces; it can live on tables and counters for up to 24 hours – a patient's cough or sneeze can leave the live virus on a hard surface long after the patient has left the area.
•The flu virus only survives on the hands for about five minutes – but since you're touching things all the time, five minutes can be a long time.
•The flu virus can float around in the air in droplet form for hours. The colder the room is, the longer the flu virus can survive like this.
The 2018 Flu Vaccine
Because the strains of the flu circulating change each year, every flu season requires its own vaccine. This year there is a quadrivalent vaccine, meaning it protects against the four strains expected to be the most common.
While anyone who can get the vaccine safely should, people with egg allergies may have some specific things to look out for because of the makeup of the vaccine. According to the CDC:
•If you have an egg allergy, you can receive the appropriate vaccine from a medical professional.
•If you have a severe egg allergy (reacting beyond just hives) or a history of one, you should be vaccinated in a supervised healthcare setting that is ready to respond to potential allergic reactions.
Staying Safe From the Flu – and Keeping Others Safe Too
The above factors point to proper sanitization of surfaces, good hand hygiene, and vaccination as instrumental in preventing the spread of the flu throughout the season. To learn more about what you can do to control potentially harmful microorganisms in your caregiver environment, subscribe to the Ventyv™ blog and stay on top of the developments in hand hygiene and infection control – before, during and after flu season.