Flu: New Thinking in the New Year

By Barbara Connell | January 6, 2017

2017 is starting off a little rough and for clinicians, it’s very busy.   That’s because the 2016-2017 flu season is just now starting to kick into high gear.

The general public often uses the term flu to describe an illness with symptoms of upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.  These symptoms actually describe gastroenteritis, an infection of the stomach and intestines.  Influenza is different. It causes fevers, sore throats, runny noses as well as general aches and pains. It usually does not cause stomach problems.

Although we think of the flu as being seasonal, the flu can be active at any time.  So it’s our job to find a new approach, a new way to tackle an issue we see every year as we work to prevent and protect by looking at different products and resources.

The influenza season generally begins in October, with the highest activity seen between December and March, but can last well into May. The CDC has indicated this flu season is following a similar pattern to the 2015-2016 season, where it started and peaked later than the three previous flu seasons. Although there is activity throughout the United States, there are eight states reporting widespread flu activity: California, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia and remember we’re not done.

So far in the 2016-2017 influenza season, Influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been identified most frequently in the U.S. In the past, H3N2-predominant seasons have been associated with more severe illness and higher mortality. If H3N2 viruses continue to circulate widely, older adults and young children may be more severely impacted.

Influenza activity is unpredictable, it is expected to increase further in the coming weeks. The CDC recommends annual flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months of age and older. The flu vaccine is the best protection from getting the flu. Even though flu activity is increasing, it is not too late to get your vaccine.

Effectiveness of the Vaccine:

The CDC has been conducting studies on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine since the 2003-2004 season. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show vaccines reduce the risk of flu illness by about 50% to 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the vaccine viruses. In general, recent studies have supported the conclusion that flu vaccination benefits public health, especially when the flu vaccine is well matched to circulating flu viruses.

Benefits of the Vaccine:

So what are the benefits of the flu vaccine? First and foremost, it can keep you from getting sick with the virus. Some of the other benefitsinclude:

It reduces the risk of flu-associated hospitalization, especially among children, elderly, and patients with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%)
It adds protection for women during and after pregnancy
It protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.

Protection and Prevention:

So while our patients might know this is the time of year more of them could get sick, we need to consider the options available to keep ourselves and our patients healthy.

In your facility you might already basic items like the Medline Infection Control Kit which includes hand sanitizer, tissues and even a bag to dispose of those items once they’re filled with germs.  You can go a step further with the CURAD BioMask.  It’s the only mask of its kind that can kill these viruses within five minutes.

As for the vaccine, preparation for the production of next year’s supply is happening now as the viral strains of this year’s influenza are being monitored. In fact, the reservation process for the vaccine is already underway.  Click here to learn more.

How does your facility plan for the flu throughout the year?

Categories: Expert Views, Infection Prevention

Barbara Connell

Director of Medical Affairs

Barbara Connell has over 20 years’ experience as a medical technologist working specifically in the areas of microbiology, hematology and blood banking. Connell also has 15 years of experience in the IVD laboratory diagnostics business.

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