The 2018 influenza season is one of the worst in recent history. The only state that hasn't been affected by the epidemic is Hawaii. Because of the severity of this year's most common flu, hospitals must be extra cautious when treating patients because deaths from this strain of the common flu virus are higher this season than in previous years.
This brings up questions about infectious disease control in hospitals. How do hospitals keep patients safe from infections and illnesses when there are so many people in such close proximity? The solutions that have to be used aren't always easy but they are necessary to keep vulnerable patients safe from contracting these illnesses.
What kind of precautions should be taken?
Droplet precautions are necessary to help control the spread of the flu. This means that patients who have the flu need to wear a mask to keep droplets, such as those that are expelled when they sneeze, contained.
Of course, patients who are admitted in the hospital probably wouldn't wear masks in their rooms, so health care workers and visitors need to take additional precautions. Wearing gloves, masks and gowns can help stop the spread of the flu. Some hospitals opt to restrict visitors during the height of flu season to prevent transmission of the illness.
Which patients are at risk?
Anyone can suffer from flu complications that might lead to death. Elderly individuals, young children, pregnant women and those who have a weakened immune system are all at an increased risk of contracting the flu.
Patients who have cancer, AIDS and other conditions have weakened immune systems. For these individuals, extra care must be taken to prevent transmission. This could pose a challenge in waiting areas, such as the emergency room, so hospitals should have protocol for how to handle these matters.
What happens if appropriate steps aren't taken?
When precautions aren't followed and patients get sick, they can face the possibility of having to be admitted into the hospital and having to miss work. When the illness is caused by a transmission that could have been prevented, such as a health care worker not washing his or her hands before coming into contact with the person, the patient might choose to file a complaint about the incident. In the case of improperly managed influenza cases in which death occurs, the patient's loved ones might choose to seek compensation.