5 Tips for Travel Nurses on How to Prevent the Flu
By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor
It’s a taxing time for nurses and other healthcare professionals as they continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic and the rising number of patients affected by the annual flu season. Travel nurses have been deployed to assist at hospitals throughout the country, and it is essential that they prioritize their health and wellness in order to best combat both the flu and COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common flu symptoms are fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.
Flu symptoms can come on suddenly with little to no warning, and put you out of commission for several days. So it’s best to be prepared and know how to prevent the flu so you can stay healthy and happy as a travel nurse in 2021.
5 tips on how to prevent the flu
1. Get vaccinated
The No. #1 way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot every year. The CDC, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) recommend that all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza.
The CDC has an entire resources page dedicated to nurses and other clinicians: “Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Resources for Health Professionals.” Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about the seasonal flu vaccine including dosage and administration, safety measures, vaccine composition, nasal spray versus flu shot and much more.
According to the CDC, the 2019-2020 flu vaccination coverage among health care personnel was 80.6%, similar to coverage during the past five seasons (ranging from 77.3% to 81.1%). By occupation, flu vaccination coverage was highest among physicians (98.0%), nurses (92.0%), pharmacists (90.6%), and nurse practitioners and physician assistants (88.8%). Health officials are hoping to see even higher rates of vaccination for the 2020-2021 season.
2. Be vigilant about hand washing and personal hygiene
You are probably used to telling your patients to wash their hands often and properly, but it’s an important reminder for clinicians, as well -- especially those who may rely frequently on hand sanitizers. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help prevent the flu. Of course, hand sanitizer gels and sprays are a great alternative when you don’t have access to a sink and soap.
The most important times to practice good hand hygiene are before you prepare food or touch your face and after you use the restroom, cough or sneeze, or care for someone who is sick.
3. ear a mask and other personal protective equipment
This one is obvious for nurses who must don PPE for every single shift, and sometimes between patients, but it can be easy to let your guard down when you are among friends and family outside of work. A face mask can help prevent transmission of the flu and the coronavirus, and it is essential that nurses and other healthcare professionals stay vigilant even when off the clock. The CDC recommends that people with flu symptoms or a diagnosis of flu should be careful to cover their mouths and nose and should stay home until their fever is resolved for at least 24 hours.
Consider investing in some fun mask prints and accessories that you can wear outside of the hospital or other clinical setting. A new cloth mask and chain for your neck can make wearing PPE a little more pleasurable. Etsy and Amazon have some great deals and variety for cloth masks and other protective gear.
4. Clean and disinfect common surfaces
Now that hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are back on store shelves, it’s time to focus on cleaning commonly touched and utilized surfaces. This means regularly cleaning and wiping down door handles and knobs, counter tops, bathrooms, sinks and other “high touch” areas. Don’t forget other areas like your car door handles and any railings outside or inside of your home.
Keeping a clean and tidy house can have other ancillary benefits, too, like a reduction in allergies and lower stress levels.
5. Take care of yourself!
We have all heard the airline instructions of putting your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others, and that same idea is true for nurses. Taking care of yourself through good diet, exercise and mental health awareness can help to prevent the flu this season by keeping your body and immune system in tip-top shape.
In fact, a 2017 study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that included 70,000 women over eight years found participants who regularly practiced positive thinking dramatically decreased their chances of developing heart disease, cancer, respiratory illness and infections. So it’s scientifically proven that looking on the bright side can benefit your health!
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