March 1, 2016

Precautions needed; influenza activity increasing in Middle Tennessee

Influenza season continues in Middle Tennessee, with both confirmed cases of influenza and clinic visits for influenza-like illness on the rise. Most of the influenza cases are the H1N1 strain that first appeared in 2009, which can cause very serious illness even in young healthy people. Fortunately, the seasonal influenza vaccine is a good match for the circulating viruses this season. However, while the influenza vaccine reduces the risk of getting influenza, it is not 100 percent protective and there are many other respiratory viruses that are not covered by the vaccine. This is a good time to remember the precautions we all need to take to create a safe environment for our coworkers and patients:

1)    Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based gel or foam BEFORE entry and AFTER exit of the patient’s environment.

2)    Vaccinate your patients:  Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all persons over age 6 months should receive an annual influenza vaccine. Even though the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, it is still reduces the risk of becoming ill with influenza.

3)    Isolate patients early. Place adult patients with fever and respiratory symptoms (cough, runny nose, sore throat) into droplet precautions (wear a surgical mask upon room entry) and children into droplet and contact precautions due to the high frequency of illness caused by other respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus.

4)    Use appropriate treatment:  Guidance on antiviral treatment against influenza may be found at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/antivirals/index.htm.

5)    Don’t visit/work if ill:

a.   Advise visitors if they have any flu-like symptoms to please visit at another time when they are feeling well.

b.   Any health care workers with respiratory symptoms should wear a surgical mask when in the patient’s environment (e.g. room, stretcher bay). If you have a fever over 100.4°F and respiratory symptoms, you should not work until you are without a fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine. 

For information on how to protect yourself and your patients from influenza, check the Department of Infection Prevention’s website, www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/infectioncontrol. For current information on influenza activity, see http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm.