Every year, flu season arrives, creating an epidemic likely to impact your facility. The CDC recently announced that this has been a relatively low-severity influenza season as compared with recent seasons. However, a second wave of flu activity is elevated across the nation, and could stick around for a number of weeks. Taking a few proactive steps can significantly mitigate flu risk at your facility.
Flu Outlook for 2019
The severity of most flu seasons is impossible to predict, but the timing is generally consistent. When is flu season? Flu season begins in the early weeks of the fall and continues through winter, generally starting in early October. With indicators for flu severity monitored constantly, the CDC anticipates that common strains of the flu will spread with similar symptoms and impact as they have in previous years. Every flu season is different, however, and new viruses can actively spread at any time. While there may be many different flu viruses in circulation, flu vaccines only protect against the 3 or 4 most common viruses.
Flu strains expected in 2019 can cause typical flu symptoms, including sudden onset of cough, fever and stomach issues. In severe cases, the flu can leave employees unable to work or require a visit to the hospital. It is important to monitor signs and symptoms of the flu to avoid severe complications and prevent further spread of the virus.
The CDC recommends getting flu shots throughout flu season to prevent infection and protect those who cannot be immunized. Your employees will have the option to receive a traditional shot, or use a nasal spray. Except in rare cases, most of your employees should be able to receive some form of the vaccine. Cleaning, handwashing and good preparation can also help reduce the impact.
Preparing for Flu Season
Although the flu cannot be completely prevented, the following strategies can help reduce the risk and limit the severity:
- Create a flu plan: The span of time when influenza viruses are most contagious is widely referred to as “flu season." This is typically during the colder months of the year and it pays to have a plan in place well in advance. Flu can lead to decreased productivity and limited operations, and should be treated as a critical business risk. Your plan should include instructions for how to respond to flu signs as soon as they appear and a strategy to encourage flu shots. Communicate to employees and supervisors about the steps they should take during flu season. Your plan should also include strategies to reduce the spread of the flu (including constant cleaning and handwashing).
- Flu shots: Whether your organization supplies flu shots, subsidizes their cost or encourages employees to get vaccinated, flu shots are the most important line of defense against a large-scale outbreak. The more employees that get a flu shot, the less likely other employees are to get infected or spread the virus. Provide educational materials to encourage vaccines. If your organization pays for or subsidizes shots, materials can also include specific clinic dates and a wide range of times and options for employees to receive vaccines.
- Handwashing: Employees and supervisors alike need training around the importance of handwashing during flu seasons. Handwashing is one of the most impactful changes that your entire team can make to reduce flu spread. Alongside other cleaning tactics, handwashing can dramatically reduce virus and bacteria spread, in some cases reducing overall infection frequency by 50% or more. Handwashing signage and equipment is easy to install and consistently reminds your team to take action to prevent flu spread.
- Incident response: In the event of a flu outbreak, all members of your team will need to make the right choices to avoid further contamination. Once the flu is detected in your facility, employees need to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their environment. Cleaning and sanitizing common surfaces are the most important first steps after a flu outbreak. During flu season, cleaning should be thorough and consistent. All surfaces will need to be sanitized and shared equipment will need to be cleaned deeply to eliminate viruses. Pay close attention to gloves, tools and shared equipment, where contact between many different people can be expected.
Preparing for flu season and educating employees about how to ebb the flow of an outbreak can help your team stay healthy and keep facilities functioning at normal capacity.
Jeff Metherd has developed a wealth of emergency preparedness & response expertise in multiple roles at Grainger over the past 13 years. In 2005, he joined Grainger as a Government Account Manager, then assumed the role of Government Program Manager with a focus on Homeland Security for an 18-state region in 2008. In 2009, he developed the Grainger product offer for Public Health preparedness, and joined the Healthcare Corporate Sales team as a healthcare preparedness specialist in 2010. As Grainger’s emergency preparedness strategy manager, Jeff is actively engaged in efforts to drive continuous improvement in servicing our customers during natural disasters and other emergency situations.