Tips to help stop the spread of influenza virus

Here are some tips about things that you can do to help stop the spread of the influenza virus:

Infection control measures
Infection control measures are actions that can help prevent the spread of the influenza virus in the workplace. These measures include:

Stay home if you are ill. Most adults infected with influenza can transmit the virus from 24 hours before and up to 5 days after they begin to experience symptoms. For some adults and for young children, this period may last for 7 or more days. Some experts believe that people are most infectious in the first 3 days that they are infected with influenza. However there are no clear data on how long a person should wait before returning to work or school to minimize the risk of infecting others. The best advice at this time is that adults should not return to their usual activities for at least 5 days after they begin to experience influenza symptoms or when they feel well enough to return to their duties, whichever is longer. It should be made clear that employees must not come into work when they have influenza-like symptoms.

Wash your hands. Hand washing is one of the most important preventive measures during a pandemic. All organizations should promote hand washing and ensure that adequate supplies of hand soap and paper towels are available. Post signs in conspicuous locations (washrooms, staff kitchen, coffee stations, etc.) to remind staff to wash their hands. People must not share towels, eating utensils, or drinks with anyone else.

Use hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers should be used when hand washing stations are not available. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% to 90% alcohol (isopropanol or ethanol).

Practice respiratory etiquette. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes, and dispose of single-use tissues after use. These practices are
essential to preventing the spread of influenza.

Vaccine administration and distribution. In the event of an influenza pandemic, it will take approximately four to six months to produce a suitable vaccine. Initially, there will not be enough vaccine for everyone. The federal and provincial governments have identified “priority groups” to receive the vaccine. The groups are:
▪ health care workers;
▪ essential service workers;
▪ persons at high risk of serious illness;
▪ healthy adults;
▪ healthy children.
The priority groups may change depending on the nature of the influenza pandemic. RCDHU is working with hospitals and other organizations to ensure that the priority groups 1 to 3 are enumerated for vaccine. When enough vaccine becomes available, RCDHU will organize mass vaccination clinics to vaccinate the general public. RCDHU will make public announcements about the time and location of these clinics. Issues to consider include communicating with employees and ensuring the safe and accurate distribution of vaccines and/or medications.

Antiviral medication administration and distribution. The Province of Ontario has a limited stockpile of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Initially antiviral medication such as Tamiflu will most likely be used to treat those with severe influenza illness during a pandemic (i.e., those sick enough to require hospital care). Although, the effectiveness of antiviral medications against a novel pandemic virus is unknown it is likely that they will reduce the severity of influenza illness caused by a pandemic. If providing antiviral medication to prevent illness in contacts of cases at the early stage of a pandemic fails to prevent the viruses' introduction into Renfrew County & District, as is likely, the MOHLTC priority system for vaccine distribution will be used. This means certain populations will be given antiviral medications to prevent illness during the first pandemic wave before the vaccine is available.

Cleaning workplaces. The influenza virus can live up to two days on hard surfaces. Surfaces such as bathroom counters and objects such as door knobs that have been touched by a person with known or suspected influenza should be cleaned every day with regular household cleansers or by following current infection control protocols for cleaning and disinfecting. Ensure that adequate supplies for hand washing and cleaning are available in the workplace and that waste is disposed of promptly.

Social distancing in the workplace. During an influenza pandemic, strategies that prevent employees being in close proximity to one another may help to decrease transmission in the workplace. These strategies may include:

  • working from home or arranging to work flex hours to avoid rush-hour crowding on public transit;
  • minimizing contact with others by keeping one’s office door closed; using stairs instead of crowded elevators; canceling non-essential face-to-face meetings and using teleconferencing, video conferencing, e-mails, and faxes instead; staying three feet (one meter) away from others when a meeting is necessary;
  • avoiding shaking hands, hugging, or kissing people;
  • bringing lunch and eating at one’s desk or away from others;
  • if you feel unwell, stay home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids.

Screen employees for symptoms. Screening employees for symptoms of influenza may be a useful strategy to keep workplaces healthy. RCDHU recommends that individuals with influenza-like symptoms avoid coming to work, school, or public gatherings until they are recovered. Strategies also need to be in place to assess staff fitness to work or return to work.”

Source: Renfrew County & District Pandemic Influenza Plan March 2007
Appendix III: A Planning Guide for Upper & Lower Tier Municipalities Page III -19 & 20