Flu Season: What Healthcare Workers Should Know

The CDC publishes new recommendations each season

As the holidays approach, there’s one guest that isn’t welcome at anyone’s holiday parties—the influenza virus, more commonly known as “the flu.” Influenza is a serious and contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illness and can even be fatal.

If you are a healthcare worker, or are in career training for a healthcare related field, such as medical assistant, dental assistant, or pharmacy technician, there are certain things you should know about preventing the spread of the flu.

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publishes updated guidelines on flu vaccines and prevention measures.  For the full text of the CDC recommendations, visit Influenza Vaccination Information for Health Care Workers.

Tip 1: Get vaccinated!

With an illness as contagious and serious as influenza, it is important to get vaccinated. Healthcare workers in particular should get vaccinated to protect themselves, their family members, and their patients. Here are some details:

  • The CDC recommends that all healthcare workers get vaccinated each year against influenza.
  • This includes not only nurses and doctors, but also all other levels of employees, such as medical assistants, nursing assistants, dental assistants, pharmacy technicians, respiratory therapists, medical sonographers, lab workers, interns, and trainees. It also includes workers who are not directly involved in patient care, such as medical billers and coders, health information technologists, and medical administrative assistants.
  • Encourage your friends, family members, and co-workers to get vaccinated too. The CDC recommends flu vaccination annually for everyone ages 6 months or older, unless there is a medical condition or allergy that prevents it.
  • Get vaccinated as soon as the flu season is expected to hit your region. In many areas, flu vaccines may be available as early as October.
  • Remember, flu vaccines CANNOT cause the flu. They are made with either killed or weakened viruses.

Tip 2: Know how the flu spreads

The flu is very contagious! In healthcare settings, especially hospitals where patients stay for extended periods of time, it is important to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses as much as possible. Here are some facts:

  • The flu is easily spread, even if the carrier doesn’t feel sick.
  • Flu viruses are spread mostly by droplets. The droplets become airborne when people cough, sneeze, or talk, and can land on others as far as 6 feet away!
  • The virus can also survive on surfaces, so you can get it by touching a surface, and then touching your own nose or mouth. This method is less common.
  • You can spread the virus 1 to 4 days before you have symptoms. You will continue to be contagious for about 5 to 7 days after symptoms appear, or sometimes longer.
  • Some people can have the flu virus with no symptoms at all, and can spread it to others without ever knowing they had the virus.

Tip 3: Know the flu symptoms

How can you tell if you have the flu, or if it is just a common cold? Here are some ways to tell the difference:

  • Unlike a common cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly.
  • Symptoms may include: Fever/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue.
  • Some people may not get a fever, but it can still be the flu.

Tip 4: Follow all infection prevention protocols at your healthcare facility

Even if you are vaccinated, there is more that you can and should do to help prevent the spread of the flu. Here are some examples:

  • Practice good hand hygiene (e.g., hand washing with non-antimicrobial soap and water, alcohol-based hand rub, or antiseptic handwash)
  • Practice good cough etiquette (e.g., sneeze or cough into a tissue, dispose of tissue properly, and wash your hands properly)
  • Follow droplet precautions when warranted (e.g., wearing a surgical or procedure mask for close contact)
  • Stay home from work if you are sick

We hope this advice about the flu was helpful to you as you prepare for a career in the field of healthcare. We want you and your patients to stay healthy throughout this year’s flu season!


This article was compiled by the American College for Medical Careers in Orlando, Florida. ACMC is dedicated to preparing adult students for careers in the field of healthcare, with programs in medical assisting, medical billing and coding, health information technology, diagnostic medical sonography, cardiovascular sonography, and dental assisting. For more information, fill out our simple online form.