The best way to prevent the spread of the flu to patients in a medical setting would be to require all healthcare workers to get an annual flu shot, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Joining the academys recent call for mandatory flu shots for all health workers is the National Patient Safety Foundation, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Society of Healthcare Epidemiologists of America.
Yet, despite the known health risks the flu poses particularly to patients with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems only 61.9 percent of all medical workers in the United States voluntarily got flu shots in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Predictably, there are numerous instances in which medical workers have infected their patients with the flu.
Loyola University Health System (LUHS) has adopted a policy to lessen the flu risk to its patients. For the second straight year, the health system is requiring all of its 7,825 employees to get flu shots. Last year, 99.3 percent of its employees were vaccinated against the seasonal flu, among the highest percentage of any medical center in the nation.
Loyola was among the first medical centers in the nation to make the regular seasonal flu shots mandatory as a condition of employment. Exceptions were made for religious or medical reasons. Though it wasnt mandated last year, due to tight supplies, employees were strongly encouraged to also get shots for H1N1, also known as "swine flu."
"At Loyola, we have always had the strongest commitment to ensuring that all of our patients receive care in the safest environment possible," said Dr. Paul Whelton, MB, MD, MSc, president and CEO of LUHS. "Our mandatory flu-vaccination policy not only makes sense when it comes to our patients but also for our effort to maintain the safest work environment for our employees."
Also, for the third straight year Loyola will conduct a 36-hour emergency drill to test how it could respond to a pandemic while at the same time inoculating a significant portion of its staff against the flu. The drill will begin at 6 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, and will continue until 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 15. The drill will take place at the systems 61-acre campus in Maywood and at its 28 primary- and specialty-care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. Media are welcome to attend.
"Mandating flu shots for all our employees is absolutely the right thing to do," said Dr. Jorge Parada, director of infection control at LUHS. "The simple fact is that this is the profession that we have all chosen. The last thing we should be doing is putting our patients at risk when it is totally unnecessary. This is big safety issue."
Employees will be notified of the drill when the words "Code Triage, Internal" pop up on the screens of their computers. Notification of the drill will also be broadcast overhead, through Loyolas Intranet and on large plasma televisions located throughout the system.
The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory system. Doctors used to advise getting a flu shot only in October and November. Now doctors vaccinate through February because it takes about two weeks to develop an antibody response after the flu shot. For the last 30 years in the United States, February has been the peak month for illness, though infections can occur through April.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends universal vaccination for all people ages 6 months and older. Also, this season the H1N1 strain, also known as "swine flu," is still around but its not as widespread. To account for its presence, this years flu vaccine will contain the H1N1 strain as well as two others the Perth H3N2 virus and the B Brisbane virus.
"So only one vaccine is required, unlike the two that were recommended last year," said Dr. Michael Koller, associate professor, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Ill.