Flu season is right around the corner. Health care facilities across the country are bracing for the double impact of new COVID-19 cases along with the usual flu cases this winter.
Not only will there be a higher volume of patients to treat, but there will be greater pressure on medical staff to stay healthy and to avoid both viruses. New guidelines from the CDC are available regarding increased safety measures, guidance on flu vaccinations, and advanced testing for both viruses.
Whether you’re looking for advice for yourself as a health care professional or for your health care facility, here are some tips to help you prepare for and survive the upcoming flu season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why Does Flu Season Happen Every Year?
The flu shot has been around for decades, yet we still face flu season year after year. That’s because even if influenza vaccines can protect us from some influenza viruses, they can’t defend us against every strain of the flu.
In addition to this, flu viruses mutate, which is why your vaccinations from previous years might no longer be effective. Plus, the antibodies you might have developed from former flu shots will decline over time. That’s why health organizations recommend an annual flu shot for everybody who is 6 months old and above.
How Long Does Flu Season (and the Flu) Last?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the “flu season” typically happens in the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere in the fall and winter, although flu cases can exist year-round.
The number of flu cases starts to pick up around October and usually reaches its peak in December, January, or February. The reason why the flu virus thrives in lower temperatures is because the gel-like coating surrounding the virus solidifies in cooler air, protecting and keeping the virus alive.
Influenza comes in three different varieties: A, B, and C. Flu symptoms often appear within a few days of virus exposure and may last five to seven days for most people with healthy immune systems.
Persons who are at risk for complications or for a longer fight with the flu virus include the elderly, pregnant women, and patients with chronic illnesses like HIV, asthma, and heart disease. These illnesses and conditions can weaken the immune system, which in turn may cause flu complications, such as inflamed muscles that could lead to possible heart attacks and pneumonia.
What should you do if you get the flu? It is recommended that you get a lot of rest and drink more liquids to help your body fight the virus. You may also take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to ease the aches and pains.
Depending on your condition, doctors may possibly prescribe you an antiviral drug such as zanamivir (Relenza) or oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to fight the flu. When taken early enough, these drugs can assist in faster healing from the virus.
Since even health care professionals such as yourself are not automatically immune from the flu, the best way you can get ready for the flu season is to take care of yourself. Aside from knowing what to do to recover from the flu in case you get it, you can take precautionary measures to avoid getting the flu in the first place through proper testing and flu vaccination.
Preparations for the Flu Season During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The CDC has made some important preparations for navigating the flu season alongside the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. These preparations can also be useful for health care professionals like you.
Because the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are so similar to each other, there will be an increased need for testing for both viruses. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the CDC a special Emergency Use Authorization for a newly developed test that can simultaneously check for both A and B type flu viruses as well as SARS CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
Testing for both viruses at the same time can provide health care providers with useful data that can help them understand how the viruses are spreading. By analyzing these trends, they can decide what steps they need to take and they can develop an effective way to treat patients moving forward.
This new test can also help health care professionals like you to promote awareness of the fact that it is possible for a person to have COVID-19 and the flu either separately or together.
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing more states to enforce stay-at-home orders and to encourage people to only go out when necessary, routine medical services — including immunizations — have decreased. Yet even if some medical facilities are closed or offer only telehealth visits, it is still increasingly important to spread awareness of the flu vaccine in light of the upcoming flu season.
The CDC intends to spread educational information about the flu vaccine and to make flu shots widely accessible, especially to the elderly population and minority groups who normally may not have the necessary resources to get vaccinated.
To meet the projected demand over the next few months, the CDC is ordering extra doses of flu vaccines to minimize the number of potential flu cases during the pandemic. With a higher supply of vaccines, the CDC is optimistic that there will be fewer flu cases during flu season, and hopefully, much less strain on health care facilities and on health care professionals.
Take note that a flu shot should not be given to a patient who is currently COVID-positive, is suspected to have COVID-19, or has symptoms of COVID-19. Patients under these categories may only be given a flu shot after they have been safely moved out of quarantine status.
While the vaccine may not have complex adverse effects on COVID-positive patients, it’s important to postpone giving them flu shots to prevent medical personnel and other patients from being unnecessarily exposed to coronavirus.
Flu Vs. COVID-19
Flu and COVID-19 are very similar to each other in various ways, but they have crucial differences as well, according to CDC. As a health care professional, you need to have the ability to distinguish between the two since you will probably encounter both of them this flu season. It’s the only way you can provide the right kind of medical treatment to each patient in your facility.
Here is a quick guide on the likenesses and differences between the flu and COVID-19:
- Both the flu and COVID-19 are respiratory diseases that are contagious to others. However, they are caused by different types of viruses: The flu originates from influenza viruses, while COVID-19 is brought about by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
- Both the flu and COVID-19 may cause similar symptoms, including fever, sore throat, cough, headache, fatigue, muscle pains, etc. However, COVID-19 can also give rise to other symptoms like an impaired sense of taste or the loss of the sense of smell.
- Both the flu and COVID-19 need proper medical treatment, especially for patients with severe cases of these diseases. However, the main difference is this: The flu has existing treatment options in the form of FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs. On the other hand, while the antiviral drug remdesivir is being explored as a remedy for COVID-19, there is yet no FDA-approved drugs or therapeutics that are proven to prevent or treat COVID-19 at present.
Tips on How Health Care Facilities Can Prepare for Flu Season
If you manage a health care facility or if you work for one, here are some steps you can take as early as now to get ready for the upcoming flu season even as you continue to face the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:
Offer Flu Shots to Staff
Make sure to offer the opportunity for flu vaccination to all the staff members in your health care facility. While there is still no surefire way to prevent your team from acquiring COVID-19, you can take advantage of the existing flu vaccine to protect yourself and your colleagues from the flu.
Some medical facilities provide flu shots at no cost, while others offer incentives for employees to receive their shots annually. If you and the other staff members choose to get a flu shot, you may potentially be required to sign a form acknowledging the risks of vaccination, depending on your facility’s regulations.
Stock Up on Essential Equipment
Stock up on personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectants, and other important supplies that can help viruses from spreading. While most facilities have already been doing this since the pandemic started, it’s extra important to remain well-stocked on these essential items, especially as flu cases begin to rise and the coronavirus continues to spread.
Keep Your Work Environment Clean and Sanitary
Be sure that your work areas — as well as restrooms, break rooms, and other areas in the facility — are regularly cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized. Focus especially on high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, tables, etc.
Additionally, make sure that PPE is available for janitorial staff who are mainly responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the health care facility. Like medical professionals, they also need protection since they face exposure to viruses and germs when they clean surfaces and handle waste products.
Monitor the Flu Cases in Your Facility
Carefully monitor the flu cases that your health care facility handles. Be vigilant especially for the sake of patients who are elderly, children under the age of four, pregnant women, and adults with heart or lung disease. Extra awareness may enable you to catch potential complications, such as pneumonia, as early as possible.
Ensure Your Facility Is Properly Staffed
Last but not least, you can prepare for the flu season by ensuring you have enough seasonal workers to handle flu cases. With additional staff to take the extra workload that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, the flu season will be easier to handle. Sign up with Clipboard Health now to get access to qualified per diem shift workers before and during flu season.