Every fall, the flu’s appearance seems to coincide perfectly with the decline in air temperature. As professionals who are in close contact with their clients, this change in season should prompt massage therapists to be especially concerned about influenza protection. By thinking about the flu’s transmission from various angles, massage therapists can play a role in diminishing the damage from this highly contagious and potentially dangerous virus.
About the Flu
Commonly referred to as the flu, influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. With type A flu being the most aggressive virus carrying the highest risk of significant complications or death, influenza is classified as type A, B or C. Although the flu is not considered to be a significant health issue in the U.S., this illness can cause life-threatening infections for certain populations. Each year, an estimated 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu, while about 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die from influenza complications. Those at the most risk for flu complications include:
- Infants and young children
- Those with underlying lung or immune diseases
Usually transmitted via airborne particles or by hand from contaminated surfaces, the flu is considered to be very infectious. Upon gaining entrance into a new host, the virus targets mucus-producing cells that line the respiratory tract. Once infection has been established, the immune system is responsible for most of the flu’s symptoms such as:
- Respiratory irritation
- Runny nose
- Dry cough
- High fever
- Body aches
- Joint pain
While flu symptoms usually appear one to three days after exposure to the virus and can persist for up to two weeks, the danger of influenza lies in opportunistic secondary infections. The most common culprits include the development of otitis media, sinus infection, bronchitis or bacterial pneumonia – with the latter being a potentially serious or even life threatening complication.
Tips on How to Reduce the Flu’s Impact
Depending on where you stand, there are several different ways healthcare practitioners can diminish the flu’s impact. Five suggestions include:
- Vaccine – Once the virus comes your way, the flu shot may increase your immunity against it. There is great controversy around influenza vaccinations, with some claiming it enables them to stay healthy while others insisting that it encourages viral resistance to create more harmful strains. Each year, scientists base the flu vaccine on international surveillance and estimations about which types and strains of viruses will circulate that season. Unfortunately, this vaccination can give someone the flu and it might not target the strain that appears in your area. While receiving the flu shot is a personal decision, the Centers for Disease Control include healthcare workers in their list of who should receive this vaccination.
- Isolate – If you do come down with the flu, make sure you don’t pass it along. Due to its high level of infectivity, massage therapists should not attempt to work while they are experiencing any influenza symptoms. The best way to prevent transmitting the flu to others is to stay home during your illness.
- Deny – Don’t work on clients who have flu symptoms. Because the movement created from massage can spread viral particles that had been contained by the immune system, bodywork can give the freed viral particles another chance to find new target cells. Thus, those with the flu who receive circulatory massage are likely to emerge with a more serious infectious than they otherwise have. Additionally, a person recovering from the flu still might be shedding the virus, which increases the likelihood of transmitting their illness to you (the bodyworker) or subsequent clients.
- Hygiene – Prioritizing your practice’s hygiene protocol can reduce the transmission of all kinds of viruses. Since influenza spreads via airborne droplets, through hand contact with infected secretions and on the surfaces of objects, continual cleaning can reduce the virus’ ability to be passed on. While you can’t cover others mouths when they cough or sneeze, having tissues easily accessible in your office and signage encouraging their use may help. In addition, cleaning door handles several times a day during flu season and washing your hands before and after each client, and after using the restroom is crucial for infection control.
- Stay Strong – Reducing stress levels, eating a varied and nutritious diet, sleeping well and exercising regularly all contribute to keeping your immune system strong. The stronger your immune system is, the less likely you are to be a conduit for catching and passing along the flu. For more tips on keeping you and your practice healthy, read Protection from Autumn’s Viruses.
Whether getting the flu shot, calling in sick from work, denying treatments to sick clients, practicing astute infection control or focusing on keeping your immune system strong, massage therapists can participate in preventing the latest influenza virus from affecting themselves and their clients.