Worrisome signs of what’s just around the corner
The flu season is coming, and if the southern hemisphere’s current flu activity is any indication, it could be a bad year for the U.S. and Canada. According to a CNN report from down under, Australia as of August had a whopping 2 ½ times more flu cases reported this year than last. Influenza H3N2 was the predominant influenza A virus, and most of the 52 deaths to date were attributed to H3N2.
The flu activity in the southern hemisphere can be a harbinger of what’s to come for North America, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, although he says this is not a given.
"All the ‘flu-ologists,’ myself included, say the only thing that you can predict about influenza is that it's going to be unpredictable," Dr. Fauci said to CNN.
A more severe flu season for North America would likely mean higher hospitalizations with more sick patients flooding into acute care facilities. To prepare, healthcare professionals need proven ways to reduce the spread of influenza in hospitals to protect themselves and their patients.
What can we do about the flu?
First, it’s important to recognize the modes of transmission for influenza virus. The CDC says influenza viruses are thought to spread primarily through large-particle respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes, traveling up to 6 feet through the air. Contact transmission can occur via the hands from virus-contaminated surfaces and objects to mucosal surfaces of the nose and mouth. What’s more, all respiratory secretions and bodily fluids are potentially infectious.
So while we most often think of the flu spreading via coughs and sneezes, it’s also important to consider the risk of contact transfer from surfaces and objects in the patient care area.
Important ways for healthcare staff to reduce the risk of influenza infections in the healthcare setting:
- Encourage respiratory etiquette (use of hand sanitizer, tissues, and face masks) in key areas of the hospital for patients and visitors.
- Get vaccinated. CDC recommends that healthcare workers are vaccinated annually against seasonal influenza.
- Use Standard Precautions for all patients and Droplet Precautions for suspected influenza cases. This includes proper use of PPE – gloves, gown and face mask.
- Perform hand hygiene frequently, not only before and after all patient contact, but according to CDC, also after any contact with potentially infectious material, and before donning and after doffing PPE including gloves.
5 Moments for Flu Prevention
With the real risk of aerosolized droplets and surface contamination potentially transmitting the influenza virus to vulnerable patients, flu season is the perfect time to focus on practicing 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene (WHO). Healthcare professionals can take simple steps to reduce the risk to their patients (and themselves) by performing hand hygiene during all indications – or opportunities – for hand hygiene; not only before and after patient care, but especially in the patient zone where nurses and other staff can come in contact with contaminated surfaces, objects and patient bodily fluids, where infectious influenza viral particles can lurk.
Healthcare facilities can prepare now by stocking in sufficient supplies of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and healthcare quality soap, at the same time supply chain managers are planning PPE orders.
With flu season just around the corner, it’s just one more thing we can do, about the flu.
CDC Prevention Strategies for Seasonal Influenza in Healthcare Settings, 2017
WHO, Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare, 2009