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Disease Prevention

Influenza Vaccination Rates for Nurses Need a Boost

With all the news coverage in the last few years of people scrambling to find a flu shot, it is interesting to note that not everyone recommended for annual vaccination and able to access it chooses to do so. Surprisingly, one such group that avoids flu shots is the people administering the vaccines. In fact, only 40 percent of all health care workers were vaccinated in 2003, said the Centers For Disease Control (CDC).

Health care professionals – and nurses in particular – are key to preventing the spread of influenza. Because of their frequent and direct patient contact, nurses can spread the virus to patients in their care. This is problematic for the many patients at high risk for influenza-related complications that could lead to hospitalizations and even death. Influenza can also be spread from one healthcare worker to another or from patient to healthcare worker. In an era of nursing shortages, understaffing and mandatory overtime, nurses do not want to burden their co-workers by taking sick days related to something as easily preventable as influenza, according to the CDC.

The influenza vaccine remains the best way for nurses to protect themselves, their families and the patients in their care during the annual influenza epidemic. An annual intramuscular vaccination, the influenza vaccine is one of few immunizations that are recommended for all health care professionals, regardless of any special conditions such as pregnancy, HIV infection, severe immunosuppression, renal failure, asplenia, diabetes, and alcoholism/alcoholic cirrhosis.

Another option for most healthcare providers is the live intranasal influenza vaccine. This live vaccine is approved for use by healthy persons 5-49 years of age who are not pregnant and do not provide care for severely immune-compromised persons requiring care in a protected environment.

Vaccine Myths Abound

Despite the established benefits of the influenza vaccine, however, several misconceptions exist in the nursing community. The most common myth is that the influenza vaccine can actually cause influenza. In reality, the vaccine cannot cause influenza. Some nurses also mistakenly believe that they are automatically immune to influenza or have stronger immune systems merely because they work around sick people every day. Because influenza viruses are constantlychanging, past exposure to influenza will not provide protection against newly emerged strains the CDC said.

Yet another misconception is that the side effects of the vaccine are worse than getting influenza itself. The truth is that the most serious side effect is an allergic reaction in people who have a severe allergy to eggs (the vaccine viruses are grown in eggs). For this reason, influenza vaccination is contraindicated for persons with an egg allergy. The most common side effects are redness at the injection site and a sore arm. These symptoms are mild and resolve in one to two days.

Finally, some people might argue that because the influenza vaccine is not 100 percent effective (it is 70-90 percent effective in healthy adults), they will get influenza anyway. Even if the vaccine does not prevent all individuals from getting influenza, they are still likely to be far less sick than they would have been without the shot. The vaccine also greatly reduces the chance of hospitalization and death. People at greatest risk for influenza-related complications include: people 65 years and older; residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities; people with chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular conditions; people with diabetes mellitus; and children less than two years of age.

Nurses have long played a key role in preventing much influenza-related morbidity and mortality by ensuring that at-risk patients, particularly elderly patients and young children, are vaccinated against influenza every year. The time is long overdue for nurses to take care of themselves as well, and protect against the influenza virus by getting a vaccination.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu


© 2006 Health Resources Publishing