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Influenza and Proper Hand Washing for Disease Prevention Back to Course Index

 

The best way to reduce your risk of exposure to the flu virus in your workplace is to use basic hygiene precautions and to avoid close contact with ill people. If your job involves contact with clients or other healthcare services, then you may need to take additional precautions. Precautions for healthcare workers are addressed separately.

Pandemic flu remains a concern for workers and employers. A pandemic can occur at any time and can be mild, moderate, or severe. The pandemics create challenges for employers. The precautions identified in this course provide a baseline for workplace precautions during a seasonal flu outbreak. You may have additional planning considerations too. For example, you may need to think about what you’ll do if schools and daycare facilities are closed.

The flu spreads by:

  • airborne respiratory droplets (coughs or sneezes)
  • skin-to-skin contact (handshakes or hugs).
  • saliva (kissing or shared drinks).
  • touching a contaminated surface (blanket or doorknob).

The incubation period of influenza is usually two days but can range from one to four days. Typical influenza disease is characterized by abrupt onset of fever, aching muscles, sore throat, and non- productive cough.

Flu viruses capable of being transferred to hands and causing an infection can survive on hard surfaces for 24 to 48 hours. Infectious flu viruses can survive on tissues for only 15 minutes. Like cold viruses, infectious flu viruses survive for much shorter periods on the hands.

Flu viruses are killed by heat above 167° F [75° C]. Common household cleaning products can also kill the flu virus, including products containing:

  • chlorine
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • detergents (soap)
  • iodophors (iodine-based antiseptics)
  • alcohols

Protect Yourself During Flu Season

  • Get vaccinated! Vaccination is the most important way to prevent the spread of the flu.

  • Stay at home if you are sick. The CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 degrees Fahrenheit [37.8 degrees Celsius] or lower), without the use of medication. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds; use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.

  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve(s). Throw tissues into a “no-touch” wastebasket.

  • Clean your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

  • When using soap and water, rub soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds, rinse hands with water, and dry completely.

  • If soap and water are not available, use of an alcohol-based hand rub is a helpful interim measure until hand washing is possible. When using an alcohol-based hand rub, apply liquid to palm of hand, cover all surfaces of the hands with the liquid, and rub hands together until dry.

  • Keep frequently touched common surfaces (e.g., telephones, computer equipment, etc.) clean.

l Try not to use a coworker’s phone, desk, office, computer, or other work tools and equipment. If you must use a coworker’s equipment, consider cleaning it first with a disinfectant.

  • Avoid shaking hands or coming in close contact with coworkers and others who may be ill.

  • Stay in shape. Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and relaxation.

  • Speak with your doctor and find out if you are in a high risk category for seasonal flu (e.g., elderly, pregnant women, small children, persons with asthma, etc.).

  • Participate in any training offered by your employer. Make sure that you understand how to stay healthy at work.

 

Employer Precautions for All Work Activities

Encourage Workers to Get Vaccinated.

Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

Encourage sick workers to stay home. The CDC recommends that workers who have a fever and respiratory symptoms stay at home until 24 hours after their fever ends (100 degrees Fahrenheit [37.8 degrees Celsius] or lower), without the use of medication. Not everyone who has the flu will have a fever. Other symptoms could include a runny nose, body aches, headache, tiredness, diarrhea, or vomiting.

Monitor Flu Activity

Communicate with state and local health departments and monitor flu activity in your community. CDC recommends that you assign one person the job of communicating with the state and local health departments about flu activity in your community and giving this information to workers in your facility. You may decide to use additional precautions (see below) when flu activity is higher in your community, and it is important that workers know when to begin using them.

Promote Hand Hygiene and Cough Etiquette

Workers, patients, and visitors should be trained how to use proper hand hygiene and cough etiquette. Infection control officers should enforce both.

Workers, patients, and visitors should have easy access to supplies such as:

  • “No touch” wastebaskets for used tissues;
  • Soap and water;
  • Alcohol-based hand rubs;
  • Disposable towels; and
  • Cleaning and sanitation materials.

Lobbies, halls, and restrooms should have the above items and workers should know where they are.

Hand Hygiene

Comply with current CDC hand hygiene guidelines in order to reduce the risk of healthcare acquired infections. The generally accepted correct hand washing time and method is a 10-15 seconds vigorous rubbing together of all soapy surfaces followed by rinsing in a flowing stream of water. If hands are visibly soiled, more time may be required. Hand washing should occur after every client contact, each time gloves are removed, and when skin or mucous membranes come in direct contact with blood or other body fluids. Wash hands with an antimicrobial soap or flush eyes and mucous membranes immediately with water for 10 minutes in the event direct contact with blood or other body fluids.

  • Wash hands after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or coming into contact with mucus or contaminated objects and surfaces.

  • Wash hands after all patient contacts, contact with respiratory fluids, and before putting on and after taking off protective equipment.

  • Apply soap and water: Rub soapy hands together for at least 20 seconds, rinse hands with water, and dry completely.

  • Use alcohol-based hand rubs: If soap and water are not available, use of an alcohol-based hand rub is a helpful temporary measure until hand washing is possible. When using an alcohol-based hand rub, apply the rub to palm of hand, cover all surfaces of the hands with the liquid, and rub hands together until dry.

  • Wash your hands after shaking hands with another person.

  • Even if you use gloves, wash your hands after you have removed them, in case your hand(s) became contaminated when you removed them.

 

Cough Etiquette

  Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve(s).

  Dispose of used tissues in “no touch” wastebaskets.

 

 

 

 

Ten Flu Myths

Here are 10 common myths about the flu.

MYTH: You can catch the flu from the vaccine.

The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can’t transmit infection. So people who get sick after receiving a flu vaccination were going to get sick anyway. It takes a week or two to get protection from the vaccine. But people assume that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the shot caused their illness.

MYTH: Healthy people don’t need to be vaccinated.

While it’s especially important for people who have a chronic illness to get the flu shot, anyone — even healthy folks — can benefit from being vaccinated. Current CDC guidelines recommend yearly vaccination against influenza for everyone older than 6 months of age, including pregnant women.

MYTH: Getting the flu vaccination is all you need to do to protect yourself from the flu.

There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself during flu season besides vaccination. Avoid contact with people who have the flu, wash your hands frequently, and consider taking anti-viral medications if you were exposed to the flu before being vaccinated.

MYTH: The flu is just a bad cold.

Influenza may cause bad cold symptoms, like sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, and cough. But in the United States alone, 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year because of the flu. During the 2017/18 flu season, flu activity has significantly increased throughout the majority of the country with the A(H3N2) viruses predominating so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A(H3N2) virus-predominant influenza seasons have been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in people age 65 years and older as well as young children. It’s not too late to get a flu shot. Even if it doesn’t prevent you from getting the flu, it can decrease the chance of severe symptoms.

MYTH: You can’t spread the flu if you’re feeling well.

Actually, 20% to 30% of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms.

MYTH: You don’t need to get a flu shot every year.

The influenza virus changes (mutates) each year. So getting vaccinated each year is important to make sure you have immunity to the strains most likely to cause an outbreak.

MYTH: You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window.

The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus. Flu season coincides with the cold weather. So people often associate the flu with a cold, drafty environment. But, they are not related.

MYTH: Feed a cold, starve a fever. 

If you have the flu (or a cold) and a fever, you need more fluids. There’s little reason to increase or decrease how much you eat. Though you may have no appetite, “starving” yourself will accomplish little. And poor nutrition will not help you get better.

MYTH: Chicken soup will speed your recovery from the flu.

Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids. But chicken soup has no other specific qualities that can help fight the flu.

MYTH: If you have a high fever with the flu that lasts more than a day or two, antibiotics may be necessary.

Antibiotics work well against bacteria, but they aren’t effective for a viral infection like the flu. Then again, some people develop a bacterial infection as a complication of the flu, so it may be a good idea to get checked out if your symptoms drag on or worsen. 

The flu is a good example of how medical myths can get in the way of good medical care. When it’s flu season, take the necessary steps to stay healthy. That includes separating fact from myth.

 

In Summary

For most people, influenza resolves on its own. But sometimes, influenza and its complications can be deadly. People at higher risk of developing flu complications include:

  • Young children under age 5, and especially those under 2 years
  • Adults older than age 65
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes
  • People who are very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher

Though the annual influenza vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, it’s still your best defense against the flu.  The flu cuts into work and social activities and can spread through your whole household.

 

 

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