With Limited Flu Vaccine, Leading Infection Control Group Offers Preventive Tips

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Concerned about the recent announcement that a major influenza vaccine manufacturer has suspended vaccine production for the 2004-2005 flu season, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), a preeminent organization representing some 10,000 infection control professionals, has issued some tips for staving off illness during the coming months. With influenza season upon us, consumers are advised to take early and appropriate preventive action in order to protect themselves and their family members against the flu.

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 New York City, and an

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

vaccine first.


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.


Source: APIC