Infection control reminders during this challenging respiratory virus season

Posted on by CDC Safe Healthcare Blog

Patient sneezing into her forearm while wearing a protective facemask.

Abigail L. Carlson, MD, MPH, Physician, Project Firstline, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, CDC

With assistance from Mia Frederick (contractor, TANAQ) a writer for CDC’s Project Firstline in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion.

Over the past few months, there has been an increase in respiratory virus activity nationwide, causing additional strain on an already overburdened healthcare system. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen atypical circulation of other respiratory viruses, including influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and rhinovirus/enteroviruses (often causes of the common cold).

Flu and RSV activity peaked earlier than normal toward the end of 2022, and although infections are on the decline, they are still highly prevalent. CDC data show that nearly 19,000 people were admitted to the hospital for flu in the first two weeks of the new year alone, and weekly hospitalization rates for RSV remain higher than most recent seasons. Additionally, CDC is keeping a close eye on COVID-19 activity, as the new Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 continues to gain ground in the US, causing about half of new infections.

When these viruses are spreading in the community, the risk for spread in healthcare settings increases as well. As we continue with this challenging respiratory virus season, Project Firstline wants to remind you there are things you can do as a healthcare worker to prevent and slow the spread of infections in health care. And the good news is, you already have the knowledge and tools you need.

Using the following infection control actions together will help protect patients, yourself, and your colleagues from getting sick.

  1. Regular and correct use of masks and respirators help decrease the spread of respiratory viruses. NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.
  2. Clean your hands. Hands are main way germs spread in healthcare settings. Cleaning your hands regularly with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water is a simple yet effective tool to stop the spread of germs.
  3. Clean and disinfect. Regular environmental cleaning is a necessity. Lobby areas, cafeterias, and waiting rooms are all high-traffic spaces. It’s also important to disinfect reusable devices and not reuse disposable items.
  4. Practice physical distancing. To limit the spread of germs, encourage physical distancing – particularly in shared spaces. Also take advantage of telemedicine and use telehealth appointments for patient care, when appropriate. These strategies significantly decrease the risk of spreading illness.
  5. Get vaccinated. Encourage everyone in your practice to get vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 to reduce spread & absenteeism. Recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of illness between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons.
  6. Ensure HVAC maintenance is up to date. Consult with facilities management to ensure the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, or HVAC, system is working efficiently for proper ventilation in your facility. Consider using high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters in small spaces for an added layer of protection.

For more information on infection control for respiratory virus infections, such as flu, RSV, and COVID-19, check out the following resources from Project Firstline and our partners:

Project Firstline is a national infection control training collaborative, working to provide all healthcare professionals with the foundational infection control knowledge they need and deserve to protect themselves, their patients, their coworkers, and their communities. For more information, trainings, and other infection control resources, visit CDC Project Firstline.

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5 comments on “Infection control reminders during this challenging respiratory virus season”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I’m delighted that somebody in the CDC has finally officially said that wearing barrier masks can result in decrease transmission of respiratory viruses. It would have been nice if this would have been stated by somebody at the CDC 20 years ago.

    Roger Bitar MD,MPH

    I have been using my knowledge and abilities in a very unglamorous way, thoroughly sterilizing and disinfecting the interior of transit vehicles in the city of Woodburn, Oregon. The drivers and riders and riders to dialysis and medical appointments all credit me with keeping them safe during the 2 years of covid, and now hopefully I can at least do a part in sterilizing their transit environment. Not only is it by totally scrubbing all surfaces but also fogging the interiors.

    Thank you for your valuable email .I appreciate the efforts to give information on infection control practice. It will really help me as Iam an IPCN in my settings.

    This message could be addressed to the POPULATION, not just HCW. Please move off the “vaccine-only” mitigation strategy for the general public. It is misleading, creates false confidence in some and anger/disillusionment in others. At the same time, standards for indoor air quality need to be more than an exhortation, they need to be built in to requirements for indoor spaces. Aerosol transmission is one of the big lessons of the pandemic: don’t let another 85 years go by to before reaping the benefits of that harsh lesson.

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Page last reviewed: February 27, 2023
Page last updated: February 27, 2023