Learn How to Face This Year’s Flu Season
Seasonal Influenza in Australia
Seasonal influenza can be a volatile and deadly virus on a local, national and global scale. During the peak flu season, it is important to ensure that the best infection control measures are in place for the safety of those in your care, your colleagues and the broader community.
The burden of influenza in Australia is increasing, with an alarming 233,453 flu cases recorded in 2017 (Department of Health, 2017) and a 45.8% rise between January and August in 2016 and 2017 (Mackay et al., 2017). With that in mind, early prevention measures for protecting your Aged Care facility or GP clinic from the transmission of influenza will make a significant difference.
Key Causes of Transmission
According to the World Health Organization (2017), aerosol transmission is the primary cause of transmission for the influenza virus over a short distance. For example, an infected patient in the waiting room of a GP clinic could expel aerosolised influenza from their breath and transfer it to others in the room.
Respiratory droplet transmission is also one of the key modes for the spread of influenza, which mainly occurs through being in close proximity of an infected person who coughs or sneezes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), large-particle droplets can travel up to 182 centimeters through the air from the infected source to the recipient.
Research shows that the influenza virus can remain for 1-2 days on hard surfaces and up to 12 hours on absorbent surfaces (Bean et al., 1982). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018) also showed that direct and indirect contact through hand transfer can occur by touching infected surfaces.
How do you stop the flu spreading?
In an encouraging development, Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, announced in 2017 that aged care workers will receive mandatory flu vaccines (SBS, 2017), which typically helps reduce Australian flu cases by 40-50% (Cheng et al., 2017). However, as was observed in 2017, the vaccine’s effectiveness is not always guaranteed (Department of Health, 2017), which is why non-pharmaceutical interventions are also important.
Aerosol and droplet precautions are the best defence against seasonal influenza by preventing the transmission of the virus from coughing and sneezing. To prevent droplet based transmissions, your workplace should highlight best practice for respiratory hygiene and ensure information about influenza, vaccination and prevention is made available to staff, patients, residents and visitors.
You should make sure the correct usage and compliance of personal protective equipment by your colleagues, patients and visitors at your Aged Care facility or GP clinic is performed. Carers and visitors of patients diagnosed with influenza are advised to wear single-use face masks, such as PrimeOn Artemis. Patients with influenza must wear face masks while in waiting rooms and during transfer to other areas of the facility. If the patient cannot use a face mask when being transferred to an isolated room, workers must wear a face mask instead and keep a distance of up to 2 meters where possible (Public Health Wales, 2018).
Hand Hygiene and Sanitiser
It is important to educate, inform and guide your staff, patients and the broader community on the correct hand hygiene practices. A how to guide on washing your hands with soap or applying hand sanitiser (Le Messurier, 2017) promotes a more welcoming and safer environment for everyone. The World Health Organization’s 5 Moments of Hand Hygiene (WHO, 2009) shows a simple break down of when to perform hand hygiene in an Aged Care facility or GP clinic.
Education on other measures such as covering your mouth or using a tissue when coughing and sneezing, disposing thoughtfully of the tissue, and avoiding contact with other people until you are well again can also help reduce the infection through aerosol, droplet and direct contact.
Help Educate Your Team Today
To download your own poster of the World Health Organization’s 5 Moments of Hand Hygiene, simply fill in the form here and follow the prompts.
- Bean, B., Moore, B., Sterner, B., Peterson, L., Gerding, D., Balfour, H. 1982, ‘Survival of Influenza Viruses on Environmental Surfaces’, Journal of Infectious Diseases, vol. 146, no. 1, pp. 47-51.
- Cheng, A., Macartney, K. 2017, Flu vaccine won’t definitely stop you from getting the flu, but it’s more important than you think, The Conversation, viewed 21 February 2018, <http://theconversation.com/flu-vaccine-wont-definitely-stop-you-from-getting-the-flu-but-its-more-important-than-you-think-75778>
- Clinical Signs and Symptoms of Influenza 2018, CDC, viewed 28 February 2018, <https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/clinical.htm>
- Compulsory flu vaccines for all aged care workers 2017, SBS, viewed 21 February 2018, <https://www.sbs.com.au/news/compulsory-flu-vaccines-for-all-aged-care-workers>
- Department of Health 2017, 2017 Influenza Season in Australia: A summary from the National Influenza Surveillance Committee, Australian Government, Canberra
- Healthcare Associated infection Programme Team, Health Protection, Public Health Wales 2018, Managing Seasonal Influenza: Infection Prevention and Control Guidance in Healthcare Settings, pp.1-19.
- Interim Guidance for the Use of Masks to Control Seasonal Influenza Virus Transmission 2018, CDC, viewed 28 March 2018 <https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/maskguidance.htm>
- Le Messurier, D. 2017, Why Australians are still getting the flu, News Corporation, viewed 21 February 2018, <http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/the-biggest-mistakes-australians-are-making-in-the-influenza-outbreak/news-story/04f663dbe5dde7a7755f85bf8839d41d>
- Mackay, I. and Arden, K. 2017, This may not be the ‘biggest flu season on record’, but it is a big one – here are some possible reasons, The Conversation, viewed 21 February 2018, <https://theconversation.com/this-may-not-be-the-biggest-flu-season-on-record-but-it-is-a-big-one-here-are-some-possible-reasons-82642>
- Prevention Strategies for Seasonal Influenza in Healthcare Settings 2018, CDC, viewed 28 March 2018, <https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/healthcaresettings.htm>
- World Health Organization 2017, WHO public health research agenda for influenza: limiting the spread of pandemic, zoonotic and seasonal epidemic influenza (2017 update), WHO Technical Documents, World Health Organization, Geneva
- Your Moments for Hand Hygiene 2009, World Health Organization, viewed 1 March 2018, <http://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/tools/en/>