One of the top priorities of shelter staff is the prevention of illness and spread of disease among the shelter population. Strong emphasis is put on cleaning and disinfection, personal protection equipment, low-stress environments, and safe animal handling. But when considering the shelter population, most staff fail to make the same commitment to keeping themselves healthy as they do for the animals. This is particularly devastating for shelters that are already understaffed and then have to deal with a human outbreak of the cold and flu virus.
According to Gallup, for December 2014 the daily cold and flu reports averaged 4% and 11% of Americans respectively – the highest since 2008 when Gallup first started tracking them. To add insult to injury, the flu vaccine is only 18% effective this year according to the CDC. This year the H3N2 flu virus has been predominant prompting experts to suspect that this year’s flu season could be characterized as severe. H3N2 viruses were predominant during 2011-2012, 2007-2008, and 2003-2004 – the three seasons with the highest mortality rate in the past decade.
No touchy: Avoid people who are sick and wash your hands. Shaking hands or touching things used by infected people then touching your eyes or mouth will pretty much guarantee transmission. So sing Happy Birthday to yourself while washing and wash often.
Sleep well, eat well, and get plenty of exercise: Obviously this is the key to good health not just in flu season, but every season.
Vaccinate yourself: Despite it’s low efficacy this year, the flu vaccine can lessen the severity of symptoms. Also, the more people vaccinated the more it leads to herd immunity.
Stay home: If you do get hit with a virus, do yourself and co-workers a favor and stay home. Most people find this the hardest to abide by. They see the short term difficulties of fellow staff members getting all the work done. But in the long run it will be a lot more beneficial to have just one person out sick than the entire staff at some point.
Long story short, don’t be a martyr. The shelter will run without you for a couple of days while you get better.