It is no coincidence that the rate of respiratory infections increases during the winter holiday season. More families are visiting, residents go “home” for dinner, visitors traveling from other areas of the country bring “foreign” microorganisms along and thus we have the perfect storm. Understanding that these are things we can’t change, let’s talk about the things we CAN change that may assist in preventing the spread of infection.
Each of us should have a proactive infection control program addressing the basics such as hand washing as the simple act of washing your hands is the leading way to prevent the spread of infection! The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also states the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year. That said, good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. Some other preventive steps recommended by the CDC include:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too. This also means that you can and should limit visitation by anyone with symptoms of illness.
- STAY AT HOME WHEN YOU ARE SICK! If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. What is your facility policy on employee illness? Do staff members with obvious symptoms of illness come to work and provide care for your frail residents?
- Cover your mouth and nose. Use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Even the “benign” sneezes we all experience may carry harmful bacteria so cover your mouth and nose!
- Clean your hands! Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Hand washing has been proven to be the first defense against the spread of infection!
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth. Everyone tends to put their hands to their face and it is a bad practice!
- Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods. Many organizations have “wellness programs” for their employees. Think about ways you can foster good health habits including educational materials, rewards for participating in exercise programs, smoking cessation assistance, etc.
It’s a fact, the flu season is upon us, we can’t ignore it and can’t avoid it but we can be aware of it! It is also a fact that respiratory illness including pneumonia is the leading cause of hospital readmissions! Let’s work on preventing the spread of these infections, keep our residents and staff healthy and enjoy the holiday season! From our family to yours, Happy Holidays!