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The UHN Flu Campaign kicks off today. Employees can get their shot at flu carts at all sites while patients and visitors can visit the Outpatient Pharmacies at Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital. (Graphic: UHN)

Janet Pilgrim remembers how hard it was when her unit had a flu outbreak last year.

As a nurse manager, Janet is responsible for making sure that patient's receive smooth and effective care around the clock. But, then the flu season came and her unit was affected.

"It is really challenging because at the time you have to focus on patient care, but also communicate with families and educate staff so that the unit is as safe as possible," says Janet. "There are a lot of extra tasks that need to be addressed by everyone when you are on outbreak.

"Teamwork becomes even more essential."

Last year, units across UHN hospitals experienced flu outbreaks that lasted on average 10.5 days. Janet says that working on a unit with an outbreak not only affects workload, but also morale. It has a ripple effect of repercussions.

In the face of the flu, the unit worked together to provide the best patient care. The experience taught Janet and her team many valuable lessons:

  • If you are sick, stay home and see your physician. If you feel sick at work, visit Occupational Health Services.
  • Staff must know about proper personal protective equipment (PPE) practices and hand hygiene. This year, the medical program has committed staff to completing the influenza prevention bundle e-learning module and a return demonstration of PPE knowledge before the flu season.
  • An increased focus on environmental cleanliness, through enhanced surface cleaning, cleaning checklists and documentation of room cleaning.

The flu can be combated by a joint TeamUHN effort through vaccination, proper hand hygiene, disinfection of shared equipment and staying home when you are sick.

Prevent, Protect, Vaccinate

It's time to prevent, protect and vaccinate as UHN's annual Flu C ampaign officially launches today.

For times and locations of the flu cart at your site, which are accessible to all UHN staff, physicians, students and volunteers, from Oct. 15 to Nov. 8, please see this schedule.

Managers can request the flu cart to come to their unit or department. Please contact the Occupational Health office at your site for more information.

If staff receive their flu shot outside of the hospital, make sure to tell Occupational Health and receive a chocolate bar. The site with the highest vaccination numbers will receive a trophy.

Patients and visitors, please visit Outpatient Pharmacies at Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital to ask about having your flu shot.

Looking to Australia is typically a good indicator of what the flu season will be like in Canada.

Flu season in the southern hemisphere started unseasonably early, with more cases and hospitalizations than most previous years, according to Global News.

"It's important to start early when it comes to flu prevention," says Dr. Susy Hota, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control and an Infectious Diseases Physician at UHN. "The flu vaccine is 40 per cent to 60 per cent effective, which is an integral part in keeping yourself healthy this season."

Why should you get your flu shot this year?

Influenza is one of the top 10 infectious diseases in Ontario. While most healthy adults feel miserable for a few days, for some people, influenza can be serious or life-threatening.

Those most at risk include:

  • Adults age 65 and over
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • Pregnant women
  • Children under the age of five
  • People who are obese
  • People with chronic medical conditions, including asthma, heart disease, and diabetes, among others.
  • Residents of long-term care facilities

Getting vaccinated against influenza will provide some protection against you getting influenza. Given that the vaccine isn't perfect and that multiple other viruses can cause similar illness, it is important that we don't just rely on the flu shot for protection.

What else can I do to stay healthy this flu season?

  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve, not your hands.
  • If you are sick with symptoms of the flu or any respiratory virus, you should not be at work, even if you had the flu shot this year. Please see the flu exemption form here for more details.
  • In the rare chance that you have to be at work while ill, you must avoid patient contact and wear a surgical mask when you are around others. Try to go home as soon as you can.
  • If possible, avoid close contact with individuals who have symptoms that are suggestive of influenza-like illness. If you can't avoid close contact with individuals who have such symptoms, wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when caring for them.

Limiting the spread of respiratory viruses is everyone's responsibility.

Over 65 years of age?

This year, Fluzone High-Dose vaccine for staff over the age of 65 will be available through the Occupational Health Clinics.

Human immune defenses become weaker with age, which places older people at greater risk of severe illness from influenza.

Fluzone High-Dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody) contained in regular flu shots. The additional antigen is intended to create a stronger immune response (more antibody) in the person getting the vaccine.

If you are a staff member over the age of 65 who wishes to obtain Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, please contact the Occupational Health and Safety clinic at your site to make an appointment.

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