While flu season may have peaked, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 36 states continue to report widespread flu activity. Significant flu activity is expected to continue for several more weeks, and  the amount of people seeing their healthcare provider for influenza-like illness has been at or above the national baseline for 10 consecutive weeks so far this season.

While the majority of healthy individuals who become infected with the flu will recover without issue, those ages 65 years and older are at greater risk for developing serious complications. And, the majority of flu-related deaths and hospitalizations occur in this age group. So what can you do to help reduce the spread of the flu in your facility?

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine. Vaccinating residents and encouraging healthcare workers and families to get vaccinated is critical. And while it’s ideal to get the flu shot before the end of October each year, vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, which can last well into May.

The adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies to the flu. Below are some infection prevention and control tips for long-term care facilities and healthcare workers:

  1. Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. It prevents flu. It’s always good to remind HCW that you can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine because it’s either made with inactivated virus, no virus at all, or a weakened virus that cannot cause illness. However, you can spread the flu a day before you are actually symptomatic. The CDC provides a toolkit for long-term care facilities to help increase flu vaccination among HCW in long-term care settings.

  2. Early detection is key. If a resident in a long-term care facility is suspected to have the flu, it’s important to test, isolate and provide antiviral therapy. This helps to limit the potential spread of the virus.

  3. Perform hand hygiene often. This is one of the most important measures we can take to stay healthy all year long. Hand hygiene, which includes either handwashing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, should be performed frequently. HCW should practice good hand hygiene at key times including before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and upon removal of personal protective equipment, including gloves. Residents should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene and should receive assistance with doing so.

  4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Microorganisms from your hands can enter your body through your eyes, nose and mouth. It’s been estimated that a person touches his or her nose more than 200 times per day! Make a conscious effort to avoid doing so.

  5. Cover your cough or sneeze. Cough or sneeze into either your sleeve or a tissue and perform hand hygiene immediately after.

  6. Stay home if you are sick, and limit contact with others as much as possible. A good rule of thumb is to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Coming to work sick is harmful to both residents and your co-workers.

  7. Clean and disinfect surfaces often. Contaminated surfaces play an important role in transmission of pathogens. Studies have shown that human influenza viruses generally can survive on surfaces between 2 and 8 hours. Since we frequently touch surfaces with our hands, disinfecting and cleaning surfaces with products designed to kill the flu virus can help to reduce the spread of illness-causing germs.

This flu season, it is important for all of us to remember to take preventive measures to help us all stay healthy. 

Megan J. DiGiorgio, MSN, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is a clinical specialist at GOJO. Learn more at http://www.gojo.com/en/Markets/Long-Term-Care