Winter is approaching fast. It’s getting cold outside. People around you are coughing and sneezing. You’ve heard reports of an outbreak of the flu.
But you’re OK. You’re well. You haven’t got the flu. You can’t spread it to your patients, your colleagues, your family or your friends. Right?
Think again! Even without the fever, cough or other typical flu symptoms, you might still be infected with the virus. And, if you are, you could easily pass it onto others.
Research has shown that around 30 to 50% of healthcare professionals who catch the flu may not show any symptoms (1), and that number may even be as high as 75% in healthy adults in general (2). And that anyone with asymptomatic flu could still spread it without realising it (3)(4).
Why the flu spreads in care settings
Care settings commonly experience flu outbreaks, most often when the virus is circulating in the local community (4)(5).
After all, the patients in care settings are more likely than others to have a weaker immune system (6). Their bodies are slower to respond to any infection, increasing their risk of catching the flu and lengthening the time they take to recover.
Typically, someone with the flu will be most infectious from the day their symptoms start and for a further three to seven days. But children and people with weaker immune systems may remain infectious for longer (7), putting healthcare professionals at high risk of catching the flu from those in their care.
What if you caught the flu and were unaware of your infection? If you have flu, you generally start to feel ill within a few days of being infected (7). But, as we’ve seen, many healthy people who catch the flu don’t experience any symptoms.
And what if you then passed the flu onto the vulnerable members of your family or people in your care? Recent research shows an infectious person can spread the flu to anyone they come into close contact with – even if they don’t have any symptoms (8).
The young, elderly, pregnant and chronically ill people you care for are at greater risk than others of catching the flu, as are the babies and toddlers, grandparents and expectant mothers in your family. And we shouldn’t forget those family members with a long-term health condition who are also more at risk of catching the flu.
What’s more, these people close to you are also more susceptible than others to severe complications with the flu. You could be unwittingly putting them all at risk.
Protect yourself and those in your care
Vaccination is the most effective way of preventing the flu (9). It protects healthy adults even when there isn’t an exact match between the flu viruses circulating and the viruses in the vaccine.
And while vaccination may be less effective at preventing the flu in the elderly, it does reduce flu severity and the risk of complications (9) – as it does in other people at high risk of flu complications: children younger than five years old (10), people with chronic health conditions (11) and pregnant women and their developing babies (12).
Get your flu shot today! You’ll not only be protecting yourself – you’ll also be protecting your patients and your colleagues at work, and your family and friends at home.
Protecting Us means protecting U.