The winter season not only brings colder temperatures and snow, sleet, and ice; it can also bring the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the flu season can start as early as October, it typically peaks between December and February and can last as late as May. Although an unfortunate reality of the winter months, most people do not experience severe cases of the flu, as they’ve been exposed to similar flu viruses in the past or have received the flu vaccine.
However, in the case of the less common pandemic flu, a new virus is introduced into a population. Because the population has little to no immunity, the virus is able to spread more quickly and have greater effect. More individuals become ill and require medical treatment. For this reason, it’s important for healthcare facilities to have a plan in place to prepare for these types of situations.
There are operational measures you can take to help protect your facility and keep it up and running in the event of a flu pandemic:
- Identify high risk workers that could be exposed to influenza viruses.
- Create an emergency/crisis communication plan.
- Forecast and allow for employee-related illnesses.
- Encourage employees to stay home if ill.
- Implement travel guidelines.
- Establish training policies.
- Establish policies for those employees who have been exposed to pandemic flu.
- Provide accessible and sufficient infection-control supplies, such as gloves and facial protection.
- Develop and disseminate support materials.
- Review and update your plan annually.
Additionally, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends several safety practices for health care workers to help protect themselves and reduce the spread of pandemic flu:
- Screen incoming patients and separate those with respiratory illness.
- Allow only the staff necessary for patient care to enter patient and airborne-infection isolation rooms.
- Restrict visits for patients in isolation.
- Use proper respiratory and cough etiquette, and encourage hand washing by patients and visitors.
- Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after contact with patients, after using personal protective equipment, and after touching contaminated surfaces. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
- Limit the transportation of flu patients within the facility; use mobile diagnostic equipment and collect specimens (such as blood or tissue samples) in the room.
- Check yourself for symptoms of respiratory illness.
- Follow routine cleaning and disinfection strategies during flu season.
- Keep frequently touched common surfaces (for example, telephones, computer equipment) clean.