This Month in Emergency Preparedness News Flu Season Update

With 30 states now reporting widespread flu activity, January is prime time to revisit flu prevention strategies and sharpen respiratory management skills. More than 7 million people have gotten the flu so far this year, with as many as 83,000 hospitalized because of respiratory complications. Sixteen children have already died. This is in spite of a flu vaccine that appears to be mostly effective this season.


Here’s what your agency needs to do to navigate the choppy waters of this year’s flu season.


Prevention Is Key

The single most effective way to reduce the spread of flu viruses is to prevent infection in the first place. Everyone in your agency should be vaccinated against the flu. It is not too late to get a flu shot. Consider community outreach efforts, such as free flu vaccine days.


In addition to vaccines, handwashing can greatly slow the spread of the virus. Post reminders to wash hands and encourage your community to be mindful of the benefits of handwashing.


The flu spreads rapidly with minimal contact, so people who are sick must remain home—even if they want to work or feel better with medication. First responders who go to work sick endanger the lives of vulnerable patients, so stay home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours or a doctor says you’re no longer contagious. Educate your community about the perils of working while sick. Newborns, elderly people, and pregnant women face heightened risks.

Helping people understand the connection between their actions and flu-related deaths can save lives, so your agency may want to plan a free community education day to spread the message.


Common Complications of the Flu

The most common flu complications are respiratory in nature, including pneumonia and airway obstructions. In newborns, the flu is especially dangerous because neonates breathe through their noses. But in people of all ages, the flu greatly increases the risk of respiratory complications. Other complications to monitor for include:

  • Dehydration

  • Ear infections, particularly in children

  • Sinusitis

  • Bronchitis


Any infection can be dangerous to vulnerable populations, so even minor complications related to the flu must be taken seriously.


The Importance of Successful Airway Management

Elders over the age of 65 and children—especially infants under the age of two—remain especially vulnerable to the flu. These same populations are often afflicted by other respiratory issues. Newborns’ fragile upper airways are easily obstructed, and seniors may have complicating medical issues such as COPD or cardiopulmonary conditions. Proper airway management can save lives. Consider holding a few training sessions so members of your team can practice airway management in these populations.

A few simple medical suction strategies can improve outcomes and reduce the spread of the virus:

  • Keep your unit properly charged, and have an extra battery readily accessible.

  • Clean and sanitize all parts, and never reuse disposable parts.

  • Wash your hands before and after suctioning a patient.

  • Wear protective equipment to minimize the risk of spreading the infection.


Perhaps most importantly of all, make sure your agency has a quality portable emergency suction machine. The right machine won’t lose power, ensuring you can maintain a patent airway and protect patients in respiratory distress. For help choosing the right device for your agency, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.

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