Care for yourself before others: A lesson for healthcare providers during flu season

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It can be somewhat oxymoronic: Healthcare providers spend so much time taking care of others that they forgot to take care of themselves.

This trend can manifest in a couple of ways, be it in terms of clinicians not exercising as much as they tell their patients to or puffing on the casual cigarette, the same one they tell their patients not to touch.

And now that winter is here and the flu is floating around, healthcare providers owe it to both themselves and their patients to do everything in their power to reduce the spread of the virus.

"Clinicians are on the front line, no doubt about it," says Martie Moore, RN, CNO of Mundelein, Ill.-based Medline Industries. "We think of others before we think of ourselves…. It's important that healthcare providers do take care of themselves."

Ms. Moore recommends healthcare workers use tools such as antiviral facemasks that can deactivate flu viruses on contact to reduce cross-contamination.

Another clinical consideration Ms. Moore highlights is basic hand hygiene, which is always critically important. She adds that healthcare professionals should be sure to clean under their nail beds, an area of skin that too often goes unnoticed.

She also advises healthcare workers to make some overall wellness and lifestyle changes during flu season.

"The most important thing during high incubation and exposure time with influenza is you've got to have a strong immune system," Ms. Moore says. "You have to feed your immune system; healthy eating is important. And say, 'I'm going to take care of myself.' Take a break."

This topic becomes even more important given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's notification that this year's flu vaccine may not be as effective as they had predicted.

Before patients and healthcare providers alike jump to the conclusion that this means they don't need to get a flu shot, Ms. Moore says that is not the case, saying the strains included in the vaccine are "still in the family, kind of like the cousin" of this season's predominate flu strain.

As of early December, the H3N2 flu virus has been the most frequently detected, but approximately half the strains of H3N2 included in this year's flu vaccine are different than the ones hospitals are treating, according to CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH.

Ms. Moore says that the flu shot will still help patients develop antibodies to help fight any viruses that they may be exposed to.

Health experts at the CDC predict this flu season is going to be severe, partly due to the vaccines' lessened efficacy.

"All predictions and indications are that this is going to be a rough flu season, and much of it has to do with there are remarkable viruses that are within the environment," Ms. Moore says. "Healthcare workers need to be conscious and thoughtful and take care of themselves."

More articles on influenza:

FDA approves new flu-fighting drug 
High-dose flu vaccine better for the elderly, study shows 
Flu outbreaks cause US hospitals to restrict visiting hours 

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