By Kristeen Cherney
Just as the seasonal changes mark changes in weather, flu season brings about changes in health and wellness. The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of people in the United States get sick with the flu annually. While many cases clear up on their own within several days, complications from the flu can require medical office visits and even hospitalizations.
As a nurse, flu season makes for even busier work days as offices attempt to fit in as many patients for treatment as possible. The problem is that this also means that nurses are placed at an increased exposure to the flu. Treating someone with the flu doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get sick, but a weakened immune system might increase your risk. Consider ten ways you can boost your immunity to the flu as you treat others with the illness this season.
1. Consider a flu shot
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still says that an annual flu shot is the best mode of protection for everyone, including healthcare workers. Some medical practices and hospitals even require that all staff and medical professionals get flu shots. These requirements are certainly not without controversy, since not everyone wants a vaccination. Your decision may also depend on individual risk factors, such as age and personal health history.
2. Employ the use of surgical masks
Surgical masks are certainly required in some jobs. You likely can’t wait to take off your protective mask after participating in a surgery. As uncomfortable as they might be, you should consider wearing a mask when coming into contact with season flu patients. On top of that, encourage the use of masks in sick patients to help prevent the spread of the flu to others.
3. Keep your hands away from your face
Throughout the day, you might scratch your face or brush something, such as loose hair away from it. Such simple acts can lead to transmission of the seasonal flu. It’s hard to be mindful of this fact all of the time, but remembering not to touch your face at all can ultimately help keep you from getting sick.
4. Forget fancy soaps
You already know the importance of frequent hand washing, especially as a nurse. You can keep your hands clean simply by following basic rules and using regular soap and water. While having hand sanitizer around is not a bad idea, don’t waste time and money on specialized soaps. Such products are not any more effective than regular soap.
5. Fit in a quick workout
After being on your feet all day, the last thing you may want to do is work out at the gym. Crazy hours can even make working out seem impossible. Still, the benefits of regular exercise are undeniable, and it can even help protect your immune system. Think of quick spurts of exercise you can fit in throughout the day, such as taking the stairs or taking laps around the building during a five-minute break.
6. Keep apples at hand
When it comes to the flu, an apple a day really might keep your doctor away. Apples are widely available during fall, which also happens to be the beginning of flu season. The nutrients will help boost your immune system, while the fiber can also keep you full. Try apple slices for quick snacks.
7. Assess your individual risk
High-risk populations might need to use extra caution during flu season. This includes pregnant women and anyone over the age of 50. If the flu seems to be running rampant around your building, take extra precautions.
8. Change out of your clothes ASAP
Washing your hands and wearing a surgical mask may do little good if you wear your germy scrubs home. If possible, change out of your clothes before heading out of the building. Store in an airtight bag and take them home with you.
9. Be mindful of ill co-workers
No one is completely immune to the flu, including those who get vaccinated. If you notice a co-worker starting to get ill, encourage them to go home. Also be mindful of shared surfaces and disinfect them right away.
10. Stay home
The only real way to stop the spread of the flu is to eliminate exposure. As a nurse helping patients, this can be impossible. However, if you get sick, you should keep others well by taking the day off.
• Freyer, Felice J. (2014, September 25). Brigham and Women’s nurses sue over flu shot mandate. Retrieved from http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/09/24/nurses-union-sues-block-proposed-flu-shot-mandate-brigham-and-women-hospital/SQBXdxd1OQwTie5Fyg1d1J/story.html
• Preventing the Flu: Good Health Habits Can Help Stop Germs. (2014, August 28). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm
• Preventing the Flu. (2010, December). Retrieved from http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/kids/vaccines/preventing-the-flu.html
Author Bio: Kristeen Cherney is a freelance health and lifestyle writer who also has a certificate in nutrition. Her work has been published on numerous health-related websites with a focus on women’s health issues. Previously, she worked as a communications and marketing professional. Kristeen holds a BA in Communication from Florida Gulf Coast University, and is currently pursuing an MA in English with a concentration in rhetoric and cultural studies. When she's not writing or studying, she enjoys walking, kick-boxing, yoga, and traveling.