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February 8, 2018

'Wash your stinking hands' to avoid spreading the flu, nurse says in viral video

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Nov. 14, 2019.

    Katherine Lockler, an RN who works at several EDs in northwest Florida, recorded a now-viral Facebook video, warning people of the "cesspool of funky flu" in the ED and bluntly advising them to "wash your stinking hands" to avoid spreading the virus.

    Traveling this winter? How to avoid the flu when you fly.

    A word of caution

    Lockler recorded the video after a 12-hour nightshift at an ED in northwest Florida, expressing concern with what she had seen in the ED: "The biggest problem for me was seeing people come in to visit [the ED] and not only being exposed to this awful flu virus, but not taking the correct precautions to get themselves disinfected before going out in the world," she told the Pensacola News Journal.

    In the video, she offered some "blunt" education about the flu, Reuters reports, along with some frank advice. "If you're not aware of how the flu is spread, the only way you can get it is through your eyes, your nose, or your mouth," she said. She then demonstrated how to sneeze into your elbow, a strategy that has been recommended by both the CDC and health professionals—and then she did it again, this time in feigned slow motion.

    She also advised that, unless you have what she called a "true emergency," to avoid going to the ED. "It is a cesspool of flu—a cesspool of funky flu at the ER right now," she said. She also presented a hypothetical situation in which a team of softball players comes to visit a sick or injured teammate, suggesting that it would be unwise to bring that many people into the hospital, "Because guess what? You just got maybe 15 new vectors, or carriers of the flu, by them all walking in."

    Video goes viral—and draws a mixed reaction

    As of Thursday morning, the video had over nine million views and over 165,000 shares—but while people generally approved of the message, some voiced concerns about Lockler's tone and presentation, suggesting that she might be talking down to her intended audience.

    In her interview with the Pensacola News Journal, Lockler acknowledged that "there's a little bit of sarcasm in my voice because the instructions were given so many times, and they were not received well." But she added that she didn't intend to come across aggressively. "I tend to be sarcastic in all my speaking, but if it's taken wrong, I would definitely apologize to that group that misheard my message because of my tone," Lockler said. "The message is still right on the money, but if the tone was offensive, that was not the intention."

    According to the Washington Post, an online petition urging support for ED "nurses and staff and the spreading of education during this horrible flu season" suggested that Lockler had been unfairly critiqued and even "reported to the board of registered nursing and her hospital." Brad Dalton, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health, said he could not comment because the department does not discuss complaints unless and until probable cause has been established.

    A horrible flu season

    This year's flu season has been the worst in roughly a decade, according to the CDC, with 48 states reporting widespread influenza in the latest CDC report. Since flu season started in October 2017, more than 14,600 people have been hospitalized, with the majority of those being adults older than 50 and children younger than four. More than 50 children have died so far this season.

    The CDC recommends that to avoid getting the flu, people should:

    • Get the flu vaccine;
    • Avoid contact with those who are sick if you're healthy, and if you're sick, avoid contact with those who are healthy;
    • If you cough or sneeze, either cover your mouth with a tissue or use your elbow or upper sleeve; and
    • Wash your hands with soap or water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (Bever, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 2/2; Dobuzinskis, Reuters, 2/2; Bean, Becker's Clinical Leadership & Infection Control, 2/2).

    Traveling this winter? How to avoid the flu when you fly.

    Download this infographic to learn about both the obvious and less obvious locations where germs on planes are rampant.

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