Autumn is already arriving in many parts of the country, winter is right around the corner, and that means flu season will soon be upon us. In the Northern hemisphere, flu season can begin as early as October and usually peaks in January and February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older receives the flu vaccine no later than October of each year. Among those considered to be at higher risk for having flu-related complications are people over 65, children under the age of five, pregnant women, and individuals with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
Even if you don’t fall into one of these high-risk categories, getting the seasonal flu vaccine is a smart move. Working in healthcare means that you’re in close contact with many patients each day, some of whom may be suffering from flu symptoms and passing the virus around. Additionally, if you are not protected from the virus, you could contract it and unknowingly infect not only patients, but also co-workers. Healthy adults are typically contagious for a full day before symptoms begin to appear.
Several states and many healthcare facilities now make the flu vaccine mandatory for all employees. Find out what the rules are in your area and then develop a policy to address the issue. Consider extending free flu shots to the family members of staff as a way to reduce missed work days on the part of employees who might need to stay home to care for children or others in the family who come down with the flu.
If employees balk at the idea of getting a flu shot, it may be because they believe the myth that the flu shot causes the flu. That is simply not true. There is no live virus in the injectable flu vaccine. Individuals who receive a flu shot and then get sick are simply unlucky in terms of timing. It takes a couple of weeks after receiving the vaccine for the body to develop good immunity. If you receive a flu shot on Monday and are exposed to the flu on Wednesday, you may indeed become ill, but not because you were vaccinated. The side effect of a flu shot is usually just a little soreness in the arm where the injection is given.
If an employee becomes ill with the flu they should stay at home until they are completely recovered. Expect someone with the flu to be off for at least a week. No one should return to work after having the flu until they’ve been fever-free without the aid of over-the-counter fever-reducing medications for at least 24 hours. Only then is it safe to return to the office. To err on the side of caution, you may want your policy to require an even longer fever-free period.
According to the CDC, manufacturers have begun shipping flu vaccines for the 2013-2014 U.S. season, with more than 135 million doses being produced. Ample supplies should be available by September or October. The vaccine being produced for this season will protect against three types of flu – influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus, and influenza B virus – the ones that researchers expect to be most prevalent this year. If you offer the flu vaccine in your practice, get your orders in now because patients will soon be asking for their shots (or the nasal spray version) and staff members should roll up their sleeves to be vaccinated very soon.
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