The last flu season arrived four weeks early, was more intense than expected and resulted in the deaths of more than 110 children in the United States. In an effort to get ahead of the upcoming flu season, experts at Montefiore Medical Center are raising awareness about the importance of the flu vaccine, which remains the best option to reduce a person’s risk of contracting the virus. The flu season can start as early as late September and usually runs for about 12 to 15 weeks.
Infectious disease specialists already have identified the flu viruses that are the most likely to cause illness this season, and vaccines have been formulated. Experts believe about 90 percent of the viruses found during surveillance are well-matched to the current vaccines. However, there are several important factors Americans should know about the 2013-2014 vaccine:
• The standard “three-strain” vaccine will be offered to healthy children and adults. This vaccine, which will be widely available, includes two strains of the more common A virus and one of the B virus. By comparison, last year’s “three-strain” flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu-associated medical visits from Influenza A viruses by one half and from Influenza B viruses by two-thirds for most of the population.
• The new “four-strain,” or quadrivalent, vaccine was designed this year to include two strains of the A and B virus in response to the fact that there have been two predominant B virus strains circulating the past two years rather than the usual single strain. Influenza B infection is usually much less severe than Influenza A, but the extra coverage will be important for immune-compromised patients who are at risk of severe infection and complications from both strains. The vaccine is intended for people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease and those with compromised immune systems. Only five million doses of this vaccine will be developed, so it will be restricted to the high-risk patient groups, and there likely will be shortages.
“We don’t yet know how severe this year’s flu season will be, but we’re preparing now to try and confront it head on,” says Brian Currie, an infectious disease specialist and vice president and medical director for research at Montefiore Medical Center. “We continue to strongly encourage everyone to get their flu shot early in the season – September is best.”
Also new this year is a New York state regulation requiring healthcare workers who do not get the flu shot to wear a face mask when interacting with patients. Low vaccination rates among healthcare workers prompted regulators to pass the health code amendment to protect patients.
“People have the right to refuse the flu vaccine, but we also need to ensure patients are not placed at risk in a healthcare institution,” Currie says. “This will be a new requirement for everyone involved in direct patient care, but our hope is to make things better after the difficult flu season we experienced last year. We still strongly recommend influenza vaccination of all healthcare workers as the best way to protect themselves and their patients from influenza infection.”
Beginning in September, Montefiore will launch a comprehensive internal and external campaign to urge employees and members of the community to get their flu vaccines. The vaccine will be offered at Montefiore locations across the Bronx and Westchester as early as September, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the shot to become effective.
Source: Montefiore Medical Center