Flu season began in October and already 30 states are seeing flu activity, marking the earliest start in a decade, according to an ABC News report.
Based on the flu season in Australia, some experts are expecting an active flu season that could be on the severe side, according to a Harford Health Blog post.
With that in mind, agencies should take steps to protect clients and staff. Below are seven suggestions to help prevent the spread of the flu this season.
- Require the flu vaccine for staff. Agency staff may be required to get the flu vaccine if their staff is highly exposed, says Gina Mazza, total performance director of Fazzi Associates in Northampton, Mass.
If healthcare workers are not vaccinated, they may be required to wear a mask before entering a home, says Mary McGoldrick, a home care and hospice consultant based in Naples, Fla.
Be aware of legal requirements if your agency decides to require the vaccine. For instance, when following a mandatory flu shot policy, be sure it allows for exceptions for employees who refuse due to religious beliefs. In a case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) a Pennsylvania hospital was charged with religious discrimination for discharging six employees who refused in 2014 to comply with a mandatory flu shot requirement.
- Hold a flu vaccination clinic for clients and staff. Home care agencies could establish their own flu clinics to serve as a first line of defense, Mazza says. Flu clinics need to be coordinated and staffed, so be sure to identify someone to handle the effort.
The CDC provides guidance and resources for hosting a vaccination. Find the resources at http://bit.ly/2BEovMt.
- Identify a flu vaccination coordinator. The CDC recommends identifying a flu vaccination coordinator and/or team with defined roles and responsibilities. This person could take charge of coordinating a flu clinic, distributing educational material and training employees on infection control practices.
- Ensure staff stay home when sick to prevent the spread of the flu. There are known shortages in healthcare, and sometimes clinicians go to work sick, says Misty Kevech, registered nurse and project coordinator with home health quality improvement (HHQI) national campaign in Charleston, W. Va. Agencies should discourage this practice.
People with the flu are contagious one day before symptoms occur and five to seven days after initial symptoms appear, Kevech says. Keep this in mind when staff contract the flu to ensure they don’t come back to work too quickly.
- Encourage client family members to get vaccinated. For clients who cannot get immunizations, their families should get the flu vaccine in order to prevent the spread of the flu.
“Many of our patients have immune-compromised systems, but can’t get [the flu shot], but if the family members get the vaccine, it decreases the likelihood of bringing it into the home,” says Kate Semmerling, administrator with Northern Rose Home Health in Grayslake, Ill.
- Educate staff on proper hand washing technique. This is a crucial element of infection prevention.
“Nothing replaces hand washing with soap and water,” Mazza says.
CDC guidelines recommend scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds.
Hand hygiene should be performed at a minimum: Before contact with a client; before performing an aseptic task (e.g., insertion of IV, preparing an injection, performing wound care); after contact with the client or objects in the immediate vicinity of the client; after contact with blood, body fluids or contaminated surfaces; moving from a contaminated body site to a clean body site during client care; and after removal of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Remind staff to wear protective masks and gloves when appropriate. Training employees to use face masks and gloves when the client is infected or has lingering symptoms can help prevent further spread of infections.
Agencies should ensure clinicians and aides perform hand hygiene between glove changes. — Megan Pielmeier (email@example.com)
Related links: Find CDC information about promoting vaccination in the workplace at https://bit.ly/2pJT4gU.