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How Should Nurses Prepare for the Flu?

The 2015 flu season is underway. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the H3N2 virus is the most common strand of the flu thus far this season. It has caused many of the deaths and illness for the flu this winter, affecting the elderly and young children most.

The CDC explained, that although the season still has a way to go, it’s shaping up to be a particularly rough flu season. It will likely be particularly severe based on early season markers. While the young and the old are most at risk for the flu, other demographics are also at higher risk due to exposure – nurses and medical personnel.

What can nurses do to avoid the flu?
Whether in a private practice or in an intensive care unit at a hospital, it’s difficult for nurses to avoid being exposed to patients who have the flu. That is why it’s particularly important for nurses and other health care professionals to take all the necessary precautions to avoid becoming infected with the flu virus.

Get vaccinated
Many nurses across the U.S. are required or asked by their employers to get the flu vaccine. According to Nurse.com, 80 percent of nurses in the U.S. were vaccinated by November for the flu in 2012. The CDC recommends that everyone in health care get vaccinated, promoting it as the best way to stop the flu.

Although vaccines are proven effective against the flu, there are still other complications that could arise. Patients could come in for a checkup suspecting the flu and actually transmit a cold or rare strain of the flu for which people have not been vaccinated. Although this situation is less likely, it underscores the importance of taking additional precautions. Vaccines can help prevent flu transmission, but they won’t protect against similar colds or infections.

Limit exposure
As an average citizen, you may be exposed to the flu through coughs, sneezes or handshakes. But, as a nurse, you’re more likely to interact with sick patients close up, or deal with possibly infected bodily fluids like stool, the CDC explained.

If you have a Master of Science in Nursing and hold a management position, you can make greater impact on limiting exposure. According to the CDC, some of the best ways to limit the spread of the flu among health care personnel is through restrictions and guidelines in the health care setting.

“Measures include screening and triage of symptomatic patients and implementation of respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette,” The CDC explained. “Respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette are measures designed to minimize potential exposures of all respiratory pathogens, including influenza virus, in healthcare settings and should be adhered to by everyone – patients, visitors, and [health care personnel] – upon entry and continued for the entire duration of stay in healthcare settings.”

Keep clean
Whether it’s your hands or your desk, simple hygiene can make a significant impact on keeping the flu at bay. As a nurse, it’s likely ingrained in your mind to wash your hands before and after every exam or interaction with a patient, but with the flu, more is always better. Use reminders to help you and your fellow nurses to keep your hands, keyboards, desks and medical instruments cleans and virus-free.

Eat well and sleep better
Maintaining general health can be the key to keeping your immune system strong enough to fight off viruses and colds. Even when it’s cold out and the flu season makes work busier, ensure you’re getting sleep, eating good foods and getting a little exercise.

Call in sick
When the practice or office is busy it may seem like a bad idea to call in sick, but if you’re feeling a cold or flu come on, you’ll only get your colleagues sick by trying to fight through it at work. Encourage others to call in sick if you’re a manager. Self quarantine for the flu is a great way to help your team stay healthy enough to help every sick man, woman and child who comes in.

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