Flu season 2019 is here, and facilities across the country are promoting flu shots, stocking up on essentials and planning for weeks of decreased productivity due to sickness. The steps your facility takes now and through flu season can help swing the odds in your favor, keeping employees healthy and productive and preventing a widespread impact. By encouraging your employees to get their flu shots early, creating a comprehensive plan and disinfecting often, you can help reduce the flu’s impact on your facility no matter the intensity of the 2019-2020 flu season.
Flu Outlook for 2019-2020
As with most years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working early to discover which flu strains are likely to become severe, how likely an epidemic is and what we can do today to reduce the risk of flu or advanced complications. Flu season historically starts in November, running as long as through May. Many factors influence how severe the flu season will be, including weather, location and how many people have received vaccines and when.
While the CDC does not predict how severe the 2019-2020 flu season will be, they already see indications that infections will increase over the next several months. As of October, states such as Louisiana and Kentucky and regions that include the West Coast were already experiencing a rising number of flu cases. The CDC releases weekly updates that profile how fast the virus is spreading, and where cases are most commonly occurring.
The flu shot this year is a quadrivalent vaccine and is now available. Quadrivalent vaccines fight four flu strains at once, including strains expected to spread prominently in 2019. This means some past strains of the flu may no longer be as common in 2019. However, flu shots do not protect against all possible flu strains, and infections are still possible even if you or your employees have received a vaccine. If a new strain spreads rapidly, or different strains appear instead of those covered in the vaccine, infection is still possible.
The CDC expects typical flu symptoms this year. Common signs include the classic fever, nausea and vomiting, but can also include chills, lethargy and aches and pains. Most symptoms clear within two weeks, but severe cases can lead to a prolonged illness, provoke other illnesses such as pneumonia and sinus infections, or in rare cases, lead to death. Appropriately treated, serious complications are rare, and last year only about 2 percent of cases lead to hospitalization. Employees that refuse care, rest or a reduced workload or time off are more likely to aggravate flu symptoms and may show a chronic or more severe case of the flu.
Preparing for the Flu
The preparation for the next flu season starts as soon as the end of the last flu season. While the winter and spring seasons are spent fighting the flu, the actions you take in the summer and fall can have a significant impact on how much the flu sidelines your employees and operations. The single biggest step that your facility can take today to reduce the impact of flu season is to ensure that everyone is vaccinated as soon as possible.
Get the Flu Shot: Flu shots not only ready our bodies to fight off the viruses that cause the flu, but also help protect those around us. Flu strains can spread from person to person when an infected person sneezes or touches objects around your facility. According to the CDC, when a majority of your employees get flu shots early, you are likely to see fewer sick people, less downtime and reduced spread of the virus across your facility.
Plan Now: Precautions in case of flu outbreaks should already be part of your annual planning, but if not, now is the time to make a plan. Steps that your facility can take to prepare for the flu are the same year to year. Supplies that can be kept on-hand are likely already in your closets. The conversations that you can have with employees focus on the same topic. But without a plan, steps to prepare your facility and your employees may not take place, leaving you unprepared for the impact.
Draft a plan that factors in your employees and their roles, the unique layout and functions of your facility and supplies needed to fight an outbreak. The plan should include sick leave policies, handwashing and infection control procedures and flu prevention measures and supply lists to keep materials and food production germ-free. This plan also needs to assume the worst and document solutions for an epidemic across the facility where sick employees impact many teams. Inventory controls include stocking disinfectants across the facility, so they are always on hand and ensuring that you have enough supplies on order before the flu season starts.
Disinfect: Start now and disinfect common areas of your facility more frequently than usual to avoid spreading the flu as much as possible. Focus on common areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and break rooms, and ensure that you use chemicals capable of destroying viruses. The more often you disinfect, the less likely it is that flu can build up and spread from infected employees.
Likewise, encourage as much handwashing as possible during flu season. According to the CDC, the more employees wash their hands, the less likely it is that the flu can spread. While hand sanitizers are a good option for employees on the go, handwashing is proven to be more effective at eliminating flu virus and should be done as frequently as possible throughout the day.
Learn more about handwashing strategies for your facility and the signs and symptoms of common infectious diseases.