Healthcare professionals across the U.S. are bracing for a busy winter season. As respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) rates among children finally ease, coronavirus and influenza cases are rising, posing a “triple threat” to frontline workers. The necessary tools are readily available, but healthcare workers need to remain proactive in protecting themselves and their patients.
The majority of the country is already experiencing high to very high rates of influenza infection, according to the CDC Weekly Influenza Summary Update. Nationwide, 5.4 percent of outpatient visits were due to respiratory illness referred to as influenza-like illness (fever plus cough or sore throat), above the national baseline of 2.5 percent. And a new subvariant of omicron, XBB.1.5, has taken hold, raising concerns of another COVID-19 wave as people return to work and school after the holiday break.
The safety of frontline workers in the healthcare sector is vital when treating patients, and regular use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is considered crucial to mitigating sickness and reducing the risk of infecting others.
PPE includes clothing, gloves, face shields, goggles, facemasks, respirators, and other equipment to protect frontline workers from injury, infection, or illness. When properly used, PPE acts as a barrier to block the transmission of infectious materials from blood, body fluids, or respiratory secretions to your skin, mouth, nose, and eyes. Hand hygiene and PPE are considered the most potent weapons to prevent and control infections.
Several common measures can be taken to reduce the transmission of viral respiratory pathogens in the healthcare setting:
- Hand hygiene
- Respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette
- Standard precautions
- Restrict ill personnel from caring for patients at high risk for complications from infection
- Proper and regular use of PPE
Additionally, vaccination can help keep cases at bay. The CDC conducts annual studies on the effectiveness of flu vaccines, and their most recent studies show the vaccine reduces the risk of flu by 40 to 60 percent in the total population. Current flu vaccines work better against influenza B and influenza A(H1N1) and offer less protection against influenza (H3N2). Coronavirus vaccines have been a major factor in mitigating outbreaks by reducing hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S., according to the 2021 study “The impact of vaccination on COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States.”
By utilizing all of their resources, healthcare professionals can help keep patients safe and stop the spread of the flu, RSV, and COVID-19.