Understanding Seasonal Flu: What Healthcare Workers Need to Know

by Howard Gerber on January 30, 2014

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avoid-seasonal-flu-hospitalIf you work in healthcare as a traveler, you are probably familiar with signs of the seasonal flu. Keep in mind, the seasonal flu can hit different parts of the country worse than others. The flu also varies from year to year in how severe symptoms are. Healthcare workers need to have the right information not only to protect themselves, but their patients too.

Recognizing Seasonal Flu

The flu is not the same thing as a bad cold. Even healthcare workers can sometimes confuse the flu with a cold. The common cold and the flu are not caused by the same virus, but symptoms can be similar. Both can cause a headache, sore throat, and fever. The main difference is the flu tends to causes more severe symptoms and a higher fever.  Fatigue is often much greater with the flu. Many people can function normally with a cold including going to work or school. The flu often wipes people out for about a week.

Hospital Policies

Hospitals have different policies regarding a flu shot. Some facilities make it mandatory for their employees to have the flu vaccine every year. Other hospitals may require employees who are not vaccinated to wear a mask during flu season in order to prevent spreading the infection. If you are working as a traveler during the flu season, be sure you know the policy at your facility.  

Remember the Basics

Preventing the spread of the flu is important to employees, but can be lifesaving to patients. Some patients already have a weakened immune system and the flu can be very dangerous. There are several things you can do in order to prevent contracting the flu and transmitting it to others.

Maintaining a healthy diet including eating enough protein and vitamins may help fight infections, such as the flu. Without the right nutrients your immune system may not function as it should.  For example, according to Harvard Medical School, vitamin A deficiency can interfere with proper immune system function and may make you more prone to infections. Exercise also plays a key role in staying healthy. People who exercise on a regular basis also often recover from illnesses faster. 

Flu vaccines are also available, which greatly reduce your chances of catching the flu. Remember, you will need to be vaccinated for the flu every year, and it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to protect you from the virus. 

In addition to trying to prevent getting the flu, it is essential healthcare workers keep the wellbeing of their patients in mind. Remember, you may be contagious even before you feel sick yourself. That’s why it is critical to take precautions in order to prevent the spread of illness. Keep the following suggestions in mind.

  • Stay home if you’re sick.
  • Wear gloves when taking care of patients.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough.
  • Wash your hands often and always before and after entering a patient’s room.
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