For millions of people every season, the flu can mean a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and miserable days spent in bed. However, you may not realize that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the United States from flu complications each year. The flu can also be deadly; North Carolina has already seen three adult deaths this influenza season.
Cherry Hospital staff after flu vaccination
“We hope that these tragic cases will help alert other people to the risks associated with contracting flu and the importance of protecting yourself and your family through vaccination,” said Acting State Health Director Robin Gary Cummings, M.D.
This week marks National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), a national observance created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to highlight the importance of continuing influenza vaccination.
Flu season typically peaks during January and February. Complications from flu can be particularly dangerous for high risk groups including infants under 2, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or immune system problems.
"Anyone in a high risk group who gets the flu should see a doctor right away so they can receive treatment with an antiviral drug," Cummings said. "Early treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between a mild illness and a very serious illness."
A critical audience for improved vaccination rates is the healthcare workforce. Beginning this year, DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos approved a policy requiring that employees and individuals working in clinical areas of the Division of State Operated Healthcare Facilities (DSOHF) be required to receive a yearly influenza vaccine unless they have received a pre-approved exemption. Out of 10,307 facility employees, only 10 did not meet the December 1 deadline or received an approved exemption.
“I am so proud of all of our facilities and employees, and very thankful to Secretary Wos who directed us to undertake this important project,” said DSOHF Medical Director Dr. Susan Saik Peebles. “Our facilities and employees worked together to take this great step to protect some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an average of 96.5 percent of healthcare workers nationwide who were subject to mandatory flu vaccination policies received immunizations in the 2012-13 year. DSOHF surpassed not only the national average, but also UNC Hospitals’ mandatory employee vaccination initiative on all fronts – lower number of separations, lower number of exemptions, and higher rate of actual vaccination.
Hoping to increase not only awareness to the importance of influenza vaccination, but vaccines needed through the lifespan, the DHHS Division of Public Health’s Vaccinations Protect Generations media campaign was re-launched this fall for its third consecutive year. Learn more about the campaign at www.vaccinationsprotect.org.