This week’s edition of the Traveler’s Guide to Nursing and Allied Health gives tips on staying healthy during the 2022-23 flu season.
Travel nurses and allied health have had plenty of practice over the past two years in avoiding viruses and staying healthy. And though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported lower-than-normal influenza rates during the 2021-22 season, flu and COVID cases are rapidly increasing. According to a recent CDC report, more than 25,000 flu patients were admitted to hospitals during the week ending December 3, a 32 percent increase over the prior week. After weathering an early wave of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases, healthcare professionals now brace for an onslaught of flu admittances.
But just because you work 12-hour shifts in the ER doesn’t mean you are destined to get sick. Take some precautions to stay active and healthy this flu season.
Get A Flu Shot
Getting immunized is the best way to fend off sicknesses. The CDC, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) all recommend U.S. healthcare workers get vaccinated against the flu annually.
Before starting your assignment, research your destination’s current conditions and trends. Peak flu season in Miami may not be the same as in Detroit. Check out the CDC’s weekly influenza summary update to prepare accordingly.
OSHA recommends using PPE when close contact can’t be avoided, which is most of the time when taking care of patients. Use a surgical mask when entering a flu patient’s room and an N95 during aerosol-generation procedures. Use gloves, gowns, and eye protection during situations or tasks that could create splashes or cause contamination. When in doubt, check your facility’s standards and guidelines.
During the pandemic, the public got a crash course on masks and hand washing. Don’t relax when you’re off the clock and at home with family or hitting the town with friends. Wash your hands regularly and wear a mask when the situation calls for extra protection. Be sure to wipe down commonly touched surfaces such as door handles, counters, your keyboard and mouse, and your phone. Also, sanitize TV remotes, light switches, and your car door, steering wheel, gear shifter, etc.
Proper rest is one of the most proactive steps you can take to boost your immune system. When sleeping, your immune system produces proteins called cytokines, which fight infection and inflammation, and T-cells which play a critical role in fighting infectious diseases. A good night’s sleep may also help speed up your recovery. Stick to a schedule and try to get seven to nine hours every day/night.
Fad diets continue to be promoted as a quick fix to weight and health issues, but experts such as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health support balance and moderation as the best approach to a healthy diet. Vegetables and fruits, whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats), healthy proteins (beans, nuts, fish, poultry), healthy plant oils (olive, sunflower, peanut), and plenty of water (avoid sugary drinks and limit dairy). Also, choose several smaller meals over one large serving a day.
It’s been a common belief by many that staying active keeps you healthy, but science is starting to support that rationale. A recent analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found a correlation between working out and a lower risk of COVID-19 infection. A New York Times article reported that scientists have always found a link between exercise and reduced severity of illness.
Despite your best efforts, you may still contract the flu. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. The CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 after the fever has passed except to get medical care or necessities and to wear a mask when you are around others. And make sure your facility is engaging in safe work practices and following standard cleaning and disinfection methods. Review OSHA’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Guidance for Healthcare Workers and Healthcare Employers for more information, and stay healthy and safe on your next assignment.
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