The influenza virus remains a concern for home care workers, employers and their clients. By ensuring workers take flu season precautions, you can help employees and their clients stay healthy this winter. It’s the best way to prevent the spread of illness and avoid potential claims.

2019–2020 Flu Season

The CDC reports that seasonal flu activity is elevated so far this year, with an estimated 26 million illnesses, 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths. Symptoms range from mild to severe, usually appearing suddenly, and may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

The flu is unpleasant but not deadly for most people, with symptoms resolving on their own in a few days to a week. However, the risk of developing complications is elevated for some, including:

  • People over age 65
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • People with a body mass index of 40 or higher
  • Those with weakened immune systems
  • Anyone with certain chronic illnesses, including asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease or diabetes

It’s important to help prevent the spread of flu, which spreads easily from person to person through small droplets in the air from coughs and sneezes and through contaminated surfaces.

Home Care Worker Flu Precautions

Caregivers performing certain types of healthcare tasks for clients who may have the flu are at a higher risk. Tasks which can increase exposure risks may include:

  • Direct patient care
  • Aerosol-generating procedures
  • Specimen analysis
  • Dietary support
  • Housekeeping services

To reduce the risk of catching or spreading flu virus, make sure employees follow these caregiver flu season precautions:

  • Get the flu vaccine every year.
  • Practice hand hygiene and cough etiquette guidelines rigorously.
  • Encourage clients, client family members and others to follow hand washing and cough guidelines.
  • Follow all applicable infection control practices during client care.
  • Utilize gloves, masks or other personal protective equipment, where appropriate.
  • Follow the proper steps for putting on and taking off gloves, masks and other equipment.

If a caregiver does become ill, follow the proper procedures to reduce the risk of spreading the flu to vulnerable populations. OSHA recommends for healthcare workers to stay home if they are ill and to encourage ill coworkers to obtain permission to leave work. It is important to stay home and minimize contact with other people until at least 24 hours after body temperature has returned to normal, without the aid of fever-reducing medications.

The flu is a common illness, but can be serious for some populations, such as clients receiving home health care. The best way for home care businesses to protect their caregivers and their clients is to remind your employees of the risks and ensure proper procedures are followed. This helps ensure workers and their clients remain healthy during flu season.