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What Should Nurses do to Protect Themselves During Flu Season?

Higher Education Articles August 27, 2013

Influenza, or “the flu” for most people can represent anything from a minor inconvenience to several days in the hospital. Every year there is a period of time where cases of the flu rise. Some people are more vulnerable to getting the flu than others — even in incidences where the flu vaccine is in short supply; those people are allowed a spot near the head of the line to get the flu vaccine. This group include those who are 50 years old and older, who have chronic medical conditions, who are pregnant women, who is living in long term care facilities, and those who care for persons in high risk categories- including nurses.

The Vaccine Question

Even though the flu vaccine is widely available, nurses don’t always choose that method as a means to protect themselves from the flu. Many people believe that for nurses flu vaccines should be required, and in fact some individual hospitals do make the vaccine a condition for employment. Still even though it is generally accepted that the flu vaccine offers the best protection against the flu virus, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that less than half of nurses actually get the vaccine.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) agrees that vaccines are a good idea, but stops short of lending their support toward a mandatory vaccination policy. However, one New York Times editorial goes as far as calling getting a flu vaccine as a nurse’s “civic duty.” Still, many nurses don’t believe they need it or are concerned that they will suffer side effects or come down with the flu anyway.

The Standard Precautions

When a nurse doesn’t get a flu shot, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t realize the importance of staying in overall good health and avoiding the flu virus in order to stay protected and keep patients protected as well. To begin with, nurses do take the general recommendations to heart when it comes to prevent the flu.

Hand washing is among the biggest protectors against the flu or disease in general. Especially for nurses or other caregivers frequent hand washing is very important. While getting to a sink with soap and water is preferable, a alcohol based hand sanitizer is a good substitute when regular washing is not possible.

It is also advised that people avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth since it is the easiest way for germs to enter the body, in the event the hand washing ritual did not succeed at keeping the germs at bay. For those who do get sick – even with the common cold – using a tissue to cover the nose or mouth will keep germs from spreading. For nurses and health care providers, it is especially vital to watch for signs of a fever and stay away from care giving situations until the fever has been gone for 24 hours without the aid of medication.

Good over health care is also advised. This includes getting enough sleep, eating a nutritionally sound diet, exercising, practicing good hygiene habits and managing stress. Those who are lacking in these areas find themselves picking up illnesses more often than those who aren’t.

The Extra Steps

Whether a nurse gets a vaccine or not, nurses are never completely protected. It is always wise not to get overconfident when it comes to contracting and spreading the flu virus. There are instances where the flu still happens to those who were vaccinated. Because of this, many nurses make sure they take extra steps to assure that they are able to stay healthy.

There are some hospitals that offer nurses and other staff members a choice between getting an annual flu vaccine and wearing a mask whenever they interact with a patient. Some nurses see this as a good idea themselves and make mask wearing a part of their daily reality. Latex and vinyl gloves are also used to protect both nurses and patients.

When nurses believe that the risk of flu is heightened due to working with patients who have the flu, they sometimes will take antiviral drugs in order to prevent getting the flu. These drugs can be up to 90% effective in preventing the flu, and must be prescribed by a qualified health care provider.

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