An expected increase in influenza cases is present across the UK. The following information and examples of Q&A’s the RCN is receiving is provided below to help you and lead you to further information.
Current levels of influenza whilst high, do not indicate that the UK is experiencing an epidemic of influenza.
Levels of cases of influenza reported to UK health agencies is published on a weekly basis and can be found online through the relevant national public health organisations:
- Public Health Wales
- Public Health England
- Health Protection Scotland
- Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland)
Protection of staff against influenzaThe most effective way to protect yourself and staff against influenza is vaccination. The RCN recommends its members are vaccinated to protect both themselves as well as their families and patients.
Effectiveness of the vaccineThe vaccine is effective against a number of strains of Influenza A and B. In relation to the nicknamed ‘Aussie Flu’ the vaccine provides protection against B/Brisbane (i.e. of the B/Victoria lineage). A number of vaccines are available but not all provide full protection against one strain of Influenza B currently causing infections, the B/Yamagata strain. Whilst some vaccines may have reduced effectiveness, a level of cross protection can occur and therefore staff should still get themselves vaccinated if possible.
Wearing of face masks to care for patients
The RCN has been contacted by a number of members who have been asked to wear face masks by their employers if they are working with flu like symptoms or productive colds (coughing/sneezing etc).
The RCN advice is as follows:
- staff should not be working with symptoms of influenza or heavy colds due to the risk of passing the infection to patients
- face masks are not required and should not be used to reduce the risk of spread of influenza like illnesses by staff
- staff should be vaccinated against influenza if possible
- nursing staff should practice good respiratory etiquette by using tissues and disposing of these immediately after use (catch it , bin it, kill it) and perform hand hygiene when disposing of items or after coughing
- all members should be aware of and follow their local policies on influenza and infection prevention and control.