As a healthcare professional, the anticipation of an impending flu season conjures images of overflowing emergency waiting rooms, shortages of available beds and trying to juggle multiple tasks instantaneously. The 2009-2010 flu season arrived with a bang, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attempted to control the spread of H1N1. As the first pandemic in almost 40 years, the CDC estimates the H1N1 virus resulted in the deaths of approximately 8,000 – 18,000 individuals and an estimated 43 million - ~88 million cases from the period of April 2009 to March 2010. On August 10, 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially ended the 2009 H1N1 global pandemic.
So what can you do as a healthcare professional to get ready for the flu season?
The tri-valent vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the approaching flu season consists of three components, and will provide immunized individuals with protection from influenza A (H3N2) virus, influenza B and the 2009 H1N1 virus. Although most cases of influenza are relatively mild and do not require the use of antivirals or extensive medical care, influenza continues to contribute to thousands of deaths each year.
All healthcare workers and others, who live with or care for high-risk individuals, are encouraged to be vaccinated to prevent transmission of flu to those at greatest risk. Additionally, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has revised its recommendations and now urges parents to immunize all children over the age of 6 months against influenza as soon as the vaccine is made available. Those at highest risk continue to be children under the age of 5, but especially under the age of 2, individuals 65 years of age or older, women who are pregnant, and those individuals with chronic medical conditions or compromised immune systems.
Take Care of Yourself
In order to effectively take care of others, healthcare professionals must first take care of themselves. Get as much rest as possible, drink plenty of liquids, and if you become sick – stay home until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. This will be of benefit to both you and those who depend on your care.
Eat a Balanced Diet
It is critical to provide your body with the resources it needs to fight off any type of illness. By eating a well-balanced diet, your body will be positioned to do battle against influenza strains. Eating foods high in antioxidants and vitamins A and C will support your immune system and strengthen your resistance to these invasions. Foods high in folate and vitamin B also provide assistance to your immune system and help raise your natural defense mechanisms. Eating a diet rich in proteins will further shield you from the spread of infections, which often accompany influenza viruses.
Although it is often taken for granted, frequent and thorough hand washing with warm soapy water remains the most effective means of preventing the spread of infection. Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes until you wash your hands, and be sure to wash your hands prior to and immediately following the provision of care. Keep wipes available to clean non-disposable items such as phones, computers or tables.
By following these simple steps, you can protect yourself and your patients from the spread of influenza during the 2010-2011 flu season.
CDC Estimates of 2009 H1N1 Influenza Cases, Hospitalizations and Deaths in the United States, April 2009 – March 13, 2010, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 19 Apr. 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.