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Flu Season is Underway

Friday, August 25, 2017

October 1st marked the start of our flu campaign at VVRMC. The Centers for Disease Control and numerous medical associations strongly recommend annual influenza vaccination for healthcare workers because research shows unvaccinated employees are more likely to catch, spread and die from complications of the flu. Every year VVRMC offers flu vaccinations to its employees, students and volunteers to limit the spread of illness. Already this season, more than have of all hospital employees have gotten their flu shot. “As healthcare personnel, we have an ethical obligation to do the most good for our patients. In this case, we have chosen to encourage our staff to get the flu shot because in so doing they are putting our patients first,” said Dr. Owen Simwale the hospital’s Infection Preventionist. CNO Linda Rittermeyer adds, “I get my flu shot every year to reduce the odds of getting and spreading the flu to our employees and our patients. Last year, nearly all (99% of 500 plus) of our hospital employees, including physicians, received their flu shot. Not all hospitals have the support we do at VVRMC, many other hospitals have a low flu vaccine acceptance. As always, we focus on patient centered care and protect our patients from getting the flu during their care at VVRMC. We live our Mission, Vision and Values daily in many ways, the flu vaccination program is one great example of who we are every day.”

The flu season is already underway. Even though no case of influenza has been confirmed in Val Verde County, several counties in Texas have confirmed the flu and some Emergency Rooms are reporting an increase in people presenting with flu-like illnesses. Flu season typically starts in October, peaks around January or February and ends late March or April. It is hard to predict how bad a flu season will be because circulating viruses and the number of people who get vaccinated vary from year to year. Based on CDC estimates, five to twenty percent (2,500 to 10,000) Val Verde County residents catch the flu yearly and 5 to 20 die from complications of the flu. Years of research show that unvaccinated persons are two to three times more likely to have severe flu (requiring hospitalization) than those who are vaccinated. Getting the flu shot is the simplest thing one can do to reduce the odds of getting sick or spreading flu to others. A flu shot costs less than 100 dollars which is far cheaper than the thousands one could spend on being hospitalized with the flu. Numerous local employers offer free flu shots and if you have insurance, there is generally no co-pay for flu shots.

The benefits of getting a flu shot far outweigh any associated risks. 500 to 10,000 unvaccinated people die from complications of the flu yearly but only one or two of more than 2 million people vaccinated will die. Like wearing a seat belt, flu vaccines are not 100% protective but they save many lives. Most flu vaccines provide protection from three or four different flu viruses. These vaccines are much safer than those used twenty years ago because there are now egg free vaccines for those with allergies, intradermal vaccines (vaccines with very small needles) and several vaccines that contain little or no preservatives.

Now is the best time to get vaccinated because flu activity will get worse as the winter months come. “We all have an obligation in limiting the spread of flu this season because a well vaccinated community has what is known as herd immunity - enough immunity to significantly reduce the spread of flu in the area. This is why countries with low vaccine rates still have high death rates from vaccine preventable diseases such as flu, meningitis, hepatitis B, Pertussis and TB,” concludes Dr. Simwale.