Preventing the spread of influenza: A patient and visitor guide

You can help prevent the spread of influenza by ensuring that you and your family receive the influenza vaccination yearly. Hand washing is another important measure in preventing the spread of influenza.

If you are not vaccinated, you must wear a mask between December 1 and March 31, when visiting any of St. Joseph’s Health Care London sites (unless otherwise notified). 

Q. What is Influenza?

A. Influenza (the flu) is a viral disease of the respiratory tract that can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle pain, runny eyes, nasal congestion, sore throat, extreme weakness and fatigue. Cough is severe and may last two or more weeks; most other symptoms resolved in five to seven days.

Q. How is Influenza spread?

A. Influenza is spread by respiratory droplets and contact with secretions. Droplet spread occurs when someone with influenza coughs or sneezes into another person’s eyes, nose or mouth. Influenza is spread in the environment when people cough or sneeze onto surfaces, or touch surfaces with contaminated hands. The virus can be spread to others before symptoms develop.

Q. What are my requirements as a St. Joseph’s visitor/patient during influenza season?

  • If you are sick or feeling unwell with symptoms of a respiratory illness and your appointment /visit can be delayed, you should not come to the hospital. 
  • If you have not received your influenza vaccination, you will be required to wear a mask while in the hospital and near patients and residents.  Signs will be posted on entrances to inform patients and visitors of the requirements when flu is circulating in the community. 
  • If you have not received the flu vaccine and will be admitted in any of our in-patient care areas at Parkwood Institute Main, Parkwood Institute Mental Health Care, Mt Hope and SWC, you will be offered the flu vaccine on admission. Ask your healthcare provider for additional information.

Q. What are the benefits of the flu vaccine?

  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting the flu
  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization, including among children and older adults.   Older people with weaker immune systems often have a lower protective immune response after flu vaccination compared to younger, healthier people. This can result in lower vaccine effectiveness in these people.
  • Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions.
    • Vaccination was associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year.
    • Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes and chronic lung disease 
  • Vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy. Getting vaccinated can also protect a baby after birth from flu. (Mom passes antibodies onto the developing baby during her pregnancy.)
  • Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
  • Getting vaccinated yourself also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Q.  Are there side effects to the flu vaccine?

A. The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that may occur are:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Aches

Q. What if influenza is in the community before December 1 or after March 31?

A. If influenza is circulating before December 1 or after March 31 all non-vaccinated visitors and patients will be required to wear a mask in the hospital when you are within two meters of patients and residents.

Q. Why do I have to wear a mask if I’m not vaccinated?

A. Masks can serve as a way to ensure infected individuals who may have no symptoms of influenza don’t pass on the virus to others. Influenza is easily passed from person to person through droplets in the air when infected individuals cough or sneeze. This can happen anywhere. The flu virus can live on porous surfaces (eg. towels) for 24 to 48 hours and on non-porous surfaces (eg. door handles, elevator buttons) for 8- 12 hours.

Q. What type of mask should I wear?

A. The required masks are available at all entrances to St. Joseph’s buildings. If you can’t find a mask, ask a staff member or member visiting for one.

Q. When should I change my mask?

A.There is no set time for when a mask should be changed. Here are a few guidelines for proper use of masks:

  • Change your mask when it is wet
  • Change your mask when it is dirty
  • Do not leave your mask dangling around your neck
  • When touching or throwing out a used mask, wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand rub

Q. Can the influenza vaccination give me the flu?

A. The influenza vaccine will not give you the flu as it does not contain a live virus. At the time of year the flu vaccine is given, many viruses are circulating and illnesses caused by these other viruses can be mistaken for the development of influenza.

Q. Is the influenza vaccine safe?

A. The influenza vaccine has been around for 50 years and is safe for most people. Check with your primary care physician for more information.

Q. Do I need to get the flu shot every year?

A.Yes. Flu viruses change from year to year, which means three things:

  1. A vaccine made against flu viruses circulating last year may not protect against the newer viruses, which is why the flu vaccine is updated to include current viruses every year
  2. You can get the flu more than once during your lifetime
  3. Immune protection from previous year’s flu vaccine may wane over six to 12 months

Q. When is the best time to get the flu shot and how long does it last for?

A. The best time to get your influenza vaccine is early, between October and December, before the number of influenza cases increases in Canada. Full protection against influenza takes about two weeks from the time you get the shot and lasts up to 12 months.

Q. Why are staff wearing a mask in patient care areas and common areas? 

A. St. Joseph’s has several strategies to fight against influenza. We require all non-vaccinated staff, physicians and affiliates be vaccinated or wear a mask from December 1 to March 31 (maybe declared sooner or later depending on the flu activity in the community) if they have daily activities that place them within two meters of other patients and/or residents. Masks can serve as a way to ensure infected individuals who may have no symptoms of influenza don’t pass the virus to others. Staff who are unvaccinated will wear a mask when providing care for you or when within two meters of any patient.

You can also download a copy of the above patient and visitor guide to preventing the spread of influenza.

Last updated: Mon, 2017-12-04 13:43