This week saw three wards at Leicester Infirmary close as a result of an outbreak of swine flu affecting 14 cancer patients and, in the last 7 days, a total of 31 outbreaks have been reported in the UK. Swine flu symptoms include fever, aching joints, tiredness, headache and a runny or blocked nose and, although most people recover within a week, older people and those with chronic health problems are at greater risk of complications and delayed recovery.
Although swine flu was initially associated with animal to human transmission, when it made the headlines as a result of a global pandemic, it is now wholly a human disease and should be treated in the same was as any other strain of flu. With the winter flu season not yet over, you should be ready for a potential outbreak within your service. Read on to find out more about the steps you should take if flu strikes.
All service users will have been offered the flu vaccination at the start of the winter but, with uptake likely to be less than 100% and the vaccine itself not being effective against all strains of the virus, the risk of an outbreak within your service remains. Having an outbreak plan in place will help you act swiftly if you suspect the presence of flu and can often minimise the spread amongst an already vulnerable population.
5 Steps to Prepare for a Flu Outbreak
- Seek expert support. If two or more of your service users have flu-like symptoms, including a temperature of over 37.8°C, cough, runny nose, wheezing, sore throat or shortness of breath, contact your local Public Health England (PHE) to seek further advice. PHE will work with you and your GPs to find the source of the outbreak and provide expert guidance.
- Hand hygiene. Emphasise the importance of good hand hygiene to all staff and visitors by providing liquid soap and disposable hand towels at every sink, as well as additional supplies of alcohol hand rub at convenient, high-traffic locations.
- Cleaning and waste. Ensure disposable tissues and no-touch bins are available and provide sputum pots for affected service users. Increase the frequency of hard surface cleaning by ensuring that lockers and tables are sanitised regularly and that hoists and other communal equipment are cleaned after each use.
- Reduce exposure. If advised by PHE, close your service to admissions and ensure all visitors, particularly visiting health care professionals, are informed of the outbreak. Exclude any symptomatic staff, or visitors, until fully recovered.
- Isolation. Encourage affected service users to remain in their rooms, wherever possible, whilst symptomatic and avoid attendance at any non-essential external appointments or activities. High-use areas, such as dining rooms and lounges, present a particular risk of transmission and any service user suspected of having flu should be discouraged from visiting these areas.