Practice Tip of the Week: Colds, Influenza and COVID-19
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Posted by: Roy Muyinza
By Melissa Parmer, RN, CCM, MBA
Patients can get the flu or a cold anytime, but flu season usually falls between the beginning of fall and the start of spring. Colds and the flu share some symptoms so it can be very difficult to decipher which a person has based on symptoms alone; diagnostic tests done within the first days of symptoms can be determine if a person has the flu or a cold.
The symptoms of a cold are usually gradual while flu symptoms are often abrupt; often a patient has a fever with the flu, but fevers are rare with a cold. Patients may have questions about vaccines, care, complications and protective action. Nurses and health care providers can answer questions and remain aware of current topics and updates. Nurses should also discourage the overuse of antibiotics, which patients with colds or flus may specifically ask for.
While the flu and common cold are often discussed topics, COVID-19, formerly known as novel coronavirus before being assigned a formal name by the World Health Organization, has been making headlines following the outbreak reported on Dec. 31, 2019 from Wuhan, China. Patients may have questions about travel, proper use of masks, myths, and providers may have additional questions about the current situation, patient management, and education.
During patient interactions, nurses should be careful how they talk about COVID-19. Let patients know that coronaviruses cause about 15% of colds already. Some people have started referring to COVID-19 as “Chinese flu” or “Wuhan flu,” which can feed into xenophobia. Nurses can address both these issues by consistently using the phrase “COVID-19”
It may also help to remind patients that very few people have been affected by COVID-19 so far, while at least 12,000 people have already died of the flu in the United States.
Prevention and Education
Most healthy adults may be able to infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick with the flu, while children may be able to transmit the flu for longer than seven days. Washing hands remains one of the top ways to prevent the transmission of colds, the flu and other transmittable illnesses. Nurses can teach patients when and how to properly wash hands, as well as how to sneeze into their elbows (vampire sneeze) rather than into their hands. Patients may benefit from an influenza fact sheet.
Some patient populations are at higher risk for flu-related complications, and even death. For example, persons ages 65 an older, pregnant women, and patients with diabetes, asthma, heart disease, strokes, cancer and immunocompromised systems (such as HIV/AIDs), are high-risk groups, as are children with neurologic conditions. Education on preventing the spread of the flu (and other illnesses) can go a long way in preventing individual patient’s suffering as well as preventing public health crises.
The World Health Organization’s Global Influenza Strategy (2019-2030) and clinical management information may be of interest to nurses and other healthcare providers at the organizational level. Whether the flu, colds, the COVID-19 or something else, nurses can serve a vital role in the prevention of infection and health promotion in our communities.