There are many instances where health-care workers go above and beyond in the care of their patients. This is certainly something that is commendable. However, caregivers should not lose sight of their own health, especially during flu season.

It’s a fact that health-care workers have a higher risk than most people of getting sick and in order to continue the great care they provide, they also need to look after themselves.

“There’s so much hands on touching and caring by our staff where the focus is on compassion that they forget that they could be at risk themselves,” says Virginia Tirilis, Infection Control Coordinator at St. Peter’s Hospital, a 250-bed complex continuing care facility in Hamilton. “Although important year round, it is vital that staff remember to follow self care procedures that reduce the risk of infection and transmission.”

Of particular importance in the practice of self care is proper hand washing and sanitizing habits. Since starting at St. Peter’s back in March, Tirilis has looked at various hand sanitizing products and ways to make them readily available throughout the hospital and on the units.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of pressing an elevator button after someone who is infectious has touched it and then taking a bite of an apple on your break that gets you sick, or touching your eyes, depending on which virus or bacteria has been planted. By installing conveniently accessible hand sanitizing dispensers and promoting its use, we can help break the cycle of transmission.”

Another preventative measure that Tirilis stresses to staff is getting their flu vaccination. Seasonal flu shots protect against the three main flu strains that the World Health Organization and Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization believe will circulate in the coming winter. Shots typically protect against one type of influenza B virus and two influenza A viruses – an H1N1 and an H3N2.

With a delay in the delivery of vaccines due to production problems experienced by manufacturers in growing one of the strains recommended for this year’s flu shot, the window for vaccinations is compressed this year. Instead of starting the vaccine program at the beginning of October, Tirilis will have to wait until early to mid November to administer the vaccines to both staff and patients.

To build compliance among staff, Tirilis launched at St. Peter’s, “Gesundheit! Stopping the Flu Before it Spreads” as part of national infection control week in October. The campaign featured two education days which reminded staff, patients, volunteers, and visitors the importance of maintaining a healthy environment. The emphasis was on keeping themselves healthy through the flu season by getting vaccinated.

“It is important that we provide people with the right information to protect against illness. People often think they don’t need to get immunized because they will read something on the Internet that deters them from getting the flu shot. Education days help to dispel the myths out there” says Tirilis.

Gesundheit is the German word for health. Often when a person sneezes, people say “Gesundheit!” to wish them good health. Similarly, the message of the campaign was, keep yourself and those around you in good health by getting the flu shot and practicing proper germ control etiquette.