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Calling all care workers: Don’t spread the flu to your vulnerable patients

As a health or social care worker, you spend a lot of time with the patients or the residents in your place of work. You work hard every day to help these vulnerable people stay safe and lead a healthy life, and they trust you to do that.

But your work means you’re at high risk of catching the flu – then passing it on, particularly to the vulnerable people in your care (1). So, how can you best protect yourself and those you care for during the flu season?

You’re more likely to catch the flu

The flu is a serious illness. You could get very sick with the flu – even if you’re in good health (1). If you work in a care setting, you’re more likely than others to catch the flu because of the work you do. That includes (1) (2):

  • Medical, nursing and allied health professionals and students
  • Social care staff, especially those in residential settings
  • Dental personnel
  • Hospital porters and cleaners
  • Ambulance personnel
  • All GP practice staff
  • Carers and home-helps
  • Agency staff

 

It’s thought that at least 20% of healthcare workers catch the flu every year (1). As well as catching the flu from your family or friends, you could also pick it up from infected patients or colleagues at work.

There are many reports of flu outbreaks in hospitals and long-term social care facilities (1) where the flu spreads easily, through coughing and sneezing (2). The flu would mean you would be absent from work during the busy winter months. It would prevent you from caring for the vulnerable people who rely on you.

Flu spreads easily at your workplace

You could catch the flu at your workplace and spread it from there to family and friends at home. Or you might catch it from those at home and spread it to the vulnerable people you care for or your colleagues at work.

If you do become infected, you could pass the flu on to somebody you care for even before you know you’re sick. You can spread it to others even before your symptoms start to show since you’re contagious from one day before they appear to around three to five days after they develop (1) (2).

You might also catch the flu without even knowing it. A Lancet study found up to 77% of people with the flu have no symptoms (3). When you don’t have any symptoms (or your symptoms are very mild), you may well continue to work (1) – but fail to realise you risk infecting the vulnerable people you care for.

Vulnerable patients rely on your immunity

For those at high risk of severe flu, including those you care for, catching the flu could be very serious (2) – even with vaccination. The immune systems of the elderly or people with long-term medical conditions don’t respond as well to the flu vaccine as the general population (1).

These groups are more likely to be in hospitals and long-term care facilities, meaning many of those you care for are not able to generate sufficient protection from the flu vaccine (2). These vulnerable people are, in general, between five and 35 times more likely to catch the flu while they’re in hospital (1) compared to when they’re at home. They rely on your immunity – and the immunity of the other people around them – to keep them safe (1).

Protect those you care for from the flu

While infection prevention and control procedures, including hand hygiene, are essential in care settings, they won’t prevent the flu from spreading (1).

As a health or social care worker, the flu vaccine is the best way for you to protect yourself from the flu (1). It will also reduce the risk of you spreading the virus to your patients and colleagues at work, and your family and friends at home (2).

Flu vaccination is recommended for all those working in care settings (1) (2). Have you had yours?


Sources
(1) https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/[…]health-care-workers.pdf
(2) https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/flu-vaccination/hcwleafeng.pdf
(3) https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(14)70034-7/fulltext

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