News & Events

Infection control and avian influenza recommendations

Being informed is the best protection for your own safety and health

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2008 Edition

By Evelyn Bain, M Ed, RN, COHN-S
Associate Director/Coordinator, Health & Safety

Reports and comments about avian flu dot newspapers and magazines and flash through the airwaves, on TV, the radio and the internet. The question repeated over and over is, “Will avian flu be the source of the next pandemic (a world wide infectious disease event)?”

Think of it this way: the first cases may well turn up in a group of workers, who recently returned from a business trip to a once exotic land. They will probably appear in community emergency departments—in the dark of the night—most likely on a holiday weekend and with no idea of what they may have been exposed to or are carrying.

They might just have fevers. They may be coughing. Or they may feel weak and will be in need of medical attention. They may think they are sick from the suspect air quality from the very long airplane trip. You may suspect otherwise if a questions about their recent past travel is included on your history sheet.

Point being: People, even our next door neighbors, travel routinely to countries like China, Thailand and Korea, where infectious diseases, like avian flu, have been recognized. These travelers return to home base quickly and sometimes they bring infectious diseases with them. Remember SARS?

So, how can we as nurses be prepared to prevent the spread of diseases like avian flu and protect our own health in the meantime?

  1. Listen closely and read all you can on the subject of avian flu and emerging infectious diseases.
    • The CDC Web site ( has easy-to-access, brief fact sheets on many of these diseases.
  2. Attend training sessions that your employer offers.
    • The Massachusetts Department of Public Htealth often schedules classes for employees in hospital settings related to emergency preparedness.
    • Your local public health department may schedule these classes as well.
  3. Get “fit tested” for respiratory protection.
    • Know which respirator fits you best for the best protection of your own health.
    • Know were the respirators are kept for that late night need.
  4. Teach and encourage your patients and co-workers to practice “cough etiquette” and hand washing.
    • It is well understood that these basic preventive strategies may save more lives than all the vaccines available today.
  5. Consider participating in your employer’s flu vaccine clinics.
    • Flu vaccine is also a recognized preventive strategy that often protects you and your family from developing the flu and its sometimes fatal complications.

Read the next two items recently distributed by the CDC, Infection Control and Avian Influenza Recommendations and the Avian Influenza Threat, to inform the public and the health care community about where information and actions on these diseases stand at present.