Even if you’re in a specialty that doesn’t typically treat patients with flu symptoms, you’ll no doubt have a stream of people in and out of your office over the next several months who are sneezing, coughing, and otherwise sharing their germs. Your staff members are on the front line during flu season and, as such, are highly susceptible to coming down with this common illness that can be miserable at best, and fatal at worst. Here are steps you can take to help keep your staff healthy this year.
- Encourage employees to be vaccinated for the flu. The 2010-2011 vaccine helps prevent three different strains that are most likely to go around, including the H1N1 (swine) flu. If you don’t offer the vaccine in your own office, give staff information on where they can get the shot or nasal spray (county health department, local drug stores, their own primary care physician, etc.). If cost is an issue, consider paying for vaccines out of practice funds. Also encourage employees’ family members to be vaccinated.
- Stock up now on flu prevention supplies such as Kleenex®, disinfectant wipes for surfaces (including phones and computer keyboards), air sanitizer sprays, antibacterial hand soap, hand sanitizer, exam gloves, and face masks.
- Remind employees regularly about proper flu prevention hygiene such as using tissues when they sneeze or cough (and immediately tossing tissues into the trash, then washing their hands), or if no tissue is handy, to sneeze and cough into the crook of the arm rather then into hands. You can’t overemphasize the benefit of frequent, thorough hand washing.
- Staff members who have direct clinical contact with patients who have flu symptoms should wear face masks and disposable nitrile gloves. You may also offer masks to patients who exhibit flu-like symptoms as a measure to protect both staff and other patients. Consider setting up an isolated waiting area for patients with flu symptoms.
- Make sure your staff can recognize flu symptoms in themselves, and understand that they must stay at home if they are ill. Signs of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Anyone who has the flu should stay at home until they’ve been fever-free without fever-reducing medications for at least 24 hours.
- Plan now for being short-staffed occasionally throughout the busy flu season. Identify a handful of people who can be on call to come in on short notice, or register with a local temporary agency. Ask part-time employees to be willing to increase their hours if needed.
For more information on preventing and managing the flu this year, visit www.cdc.gov or www.flu.gov. There you’ll find a great deal of information, along with flyers you can print for your office reminding staff and patients about how to prevent the flu from spreading.