By Jennifer Larson, contributor Sep 14, 2020
It’s that time of year: flu season is upon us... but we’re already in
the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news is that many of the same habits and measures that medical
staff and the general public have adopted to reduce the spread of the novel
coronavirus should be effective at reducing the spread of influenza, too. In
essence, if you’re taking steps to prevent COVID-19, those steps should also
help prevent the flu.
These are some of the core healthy habits that can reduce your chances
of getting the flu this season, made even more important because of the
pandemic. Share these tips with your patients and your co-workers. Even people
who are acquainted with flu prevention could benefit from a refresher.
Get your flu shot. This is perhaps the biggest step that you can
take to prevent the flu, and is a requirement at many healthcare facilities. A seasonal flu
vaccine will reduce your chances of contracting the flu. When vaccinated,
even if you do get the flu, you are much less likely to develop serious
complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends
that everyone over six months of age get a flu vaccination (with a few
exceptions), including all U.S. healthcare workers. Vaccination is especially
important if you’re at high risk for developing complications or care for
people who are high-risk.
Rest up. A tired body is a more vulnerable body. If you’re ever
instructed your patients to focus on getting more sleep, you should listen to
your own advice. In fact, sleep-deprived
physicians can face a number of problems, so it pays to develop some
healthy sleep habits, shooting for 7 to 9 hours of rest every 24 hours.
Wear a mask. These days, your workplace undoubtedly requires
that you wear a medical grade facemask to halt the spread of the SARS-CoV-2
virus. But even when you’re off duty, wearing
a mask can be a good way to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19 and
the flu. Even medical professionals have to cough or sneeze from time to time,
and a mask can help contain those respiratory droplets when you’re in places
like the grocery store. Since experts usually recommend covering the mouth and
nose when you sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of the flu, this is one way
to do just that.
Avoid touching your face. It’s a good idea to avoid touching
your mouth, nose or eyes with your hands during flu season--and now, during the
COVID pandemic. Otherwise, you may spread germs from yourself to someone else,
or vice versa.
Avoid close contact with others. This strategy is actually a
two-pronged approach: avoid close contact with other people who are sick, and avoid
close contact with other people when you are sick. This might actually be
easier this because of the pandemic, since many people are already practicing
social distancing and remaining home as much as possible.
Keep it clean. The CDC recommends cleaning high-touch surfaces
regularly to prevent the flu from spreading. This includes surfaces at home and
at work. Concentrate on surfaces like telephones, keyboards, sink faucets,
doorknobs and counters.
Contact your doctor if you begin to show symptoms. Normally, you
might just crawl into bed and wait out any flu-like symptoms that you develop, or
perhaps you might get tested for the flu. This year, it may be hard to
distinguish symptoms of the flu from symptoms of COVID-19. Find out what your
workplace requires and contact your own primary care physician by phone, email
or via your patient portal to ask for guidance. You may need to get tested for
both COVID and the flu.
Encourage your co-workers in healthy habits, too. Remind your co-workers
that everyone needs to embrace healthy habits, not just the patients. And you
can help remind people of the importance of avoiding contact with others if
they get sick. So, if one of your fellow healthcare professionals is coughing
and fighting off the chills, urge him or her to stay home--and perhaps get
tested for the flu or COVID (or both).
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