Influenza is a potentially lethal disease, and predictions are that this may be another nasty flu season, says APIC President Jeanne Pfeiffer, RN, MPH, CIC. Infection control professionals across the country are applying their collective expertise and experience to help people stay well during influenza season.
Influenza strikes between 10-20 percent of Americans yearly. Though its symptoms are often confused with the common cold (see Flu vs. Cold: Detecting the Difference),
influenza is a far more dangerous disease, infecting at least 120 million people worldwide
and killing some 36,000 Americans each year, including seniors, children, and
individuals with weakened immune systems.
Flu is easily spread through coughing, sneezing, and simple hand contact. The hands are
precisely where APIC begins its six-point Flu-Fighters Checklist.
Washing the hands is the single most important thing an unvaccinated person can do to
avoid getting influenza, says Dr. Elaine Larson, professor of pharmaceutical and
therapeutic research at the Columbia School of Nursing in
expert in infection control. If you make a habit of handwashing during influenza season,
youre affording yourself the simplest protection money can buy.
Other flu-fighting techniques include common sense notions such as getting adequate
rest and a balanced diet.
APIC is a major proponent of vaccination as an important preventative measure against
the flu. However, at times of limited vaccine availability, it is vitally important that
healthcare workers, the elderly, chronically ill persons, and the very young be given
priority status for receiving vaccinations. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has officially announced its hope that the medical and public health communities will unite in ensuring that the most vulnerable individuals receive the
A Flu Fighters Checklist: Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Chances of Getting the Flu
1. Wash your hands frequently. Hand contact is one of the principal ways the flu
virus finds its way into your system. Wash hands vigorously for about 15 seconds,
paying attention to the areas between the fingers and on the back of the hands.
Use hot water and rinse in a steady stream. If youre in a public lavatory, dry your
hands before you shut the water off, using the towel to turn the tap off. If there is
a blow dryer, activate with your elbow.
2. An antiviral drug is an option for those who should not get an influenza
vaccine. Consult your doctor. Both amantadine and rimantadine have been shown
to be safe and effective about 70-80 percent in reducing both the severity as
well as the duration of influenza A, one of the three flu viruses. These prescription
drugs can be taken as a preventive measure. They can also be taken as a remedy
should flu symptoms appear; treatment must start within 48 hours of the first
signs, however. Consult your physician before taking any medication.
3. Eat a balanced diet, get proper amounts of sleep and exercise regularly. As
Jeanne Pfeiffer, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control
and Epidemiology (APIC) says, The first line of defense against the flu is a
healthy body and rested mind.
4. Educate your family and coworkers about the flu and its effects. Theres
safety in numbers, so make sure those around you understand about the flu and its
potential effects. The APIC Website www.apic.org contains a host of information
on this subject, including fact sheets, brochures and posters issued by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
5. Insure that at-risk family members and co-workers are vaccinated, such as
the elderly, children with asthma, and individuals with chronic lung or liver
disease, diabetes, heart or kidney ailments, or chronic anemia. Include also those
undergoing treatment for cancer and those who have compromised immune
6. Keep your distance. If you must be in the same room with family members or
co-workers infected with the flu, try to limit your time there to one hour
maximum, and keep your distance six feet minimum. If you need to get closer
than that, be careful not to stand in the path of coughs and sneezes. Limit such
close contacts to just a few minutes
Note: APIC offers these tips for guidance only. As always, you should consult your
doctor for specific recommendations.
APIC is a multi-disciplinary voluntary international health organization with more than
10,000 members whose primary responsibility is infection prevention and control and
epidemiology. APICs mission is to improve health and promote patient and employee
safety by reducing risks of infection and other adverse outcomes. APIC advances this
goal through education, research, collaboration, practice and credentialing.