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Got flu prevention? Vaccination is the best available defense.

By Kelly Berardini, MHA, ATC

klberardini@gmail.com

’Tis the season not only for holiday cheer, but also for the flu.  Nothing puts a damper on winter spirits like a fever, body aches and sore throat, which are frequent features of seasonal influenza infection, also known as the flu.  Don’t let this all-too-common virus ruin the good times for you, your family, your colleagues or your patients.  National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) was December 6 through 12.  It’s a great time to remind everyone about the best available defense against the flu, which sickens 5-20% of Americans, hospitalizes more than 200,000, and kills between 3,000 and 49,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why promote flu shots when many people who choose to get vaccinated did so closer to Halloween than Christmas?  Tracking conducted by CDC reveals that influenza vaccine activity drops sharply by the end of November.  Along with other leaders in the healthcare arena, CDC wants to remind everyone that, although the holidays are here, it’s still not too late to get vaccinated.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

With rare exceptions (e.g., severe allergy to one or more vaccine ingredients), everyone ages 6 months and older should be vaccinated every flu season.  Pregnant and breastfeeding women and most patients with chronic illnesses can be safely vaccinated.  It’s especially important for those at high risk of flu-related complications, as well as people with various medical conditions, including asthma, heart disease and endocrine or blood disorders (e.g., diabetes, sickle cell disease).

Types of Vaccines

There are many flu vaccine options available, including standard or high dose, trivalent or quadrivalent, live attenuated or inactive and preservative free (no thimerosal). Different vaccines and routes of administration (i.e., nasal vs. injection) are approved for use in different groups of people.  Factors to determine which is best suited for a particular individual include age, health status and medical conditions and any relevant allergies.

Efficacy and Safety

The extent to which the vaccine prevents flu-related illness varies each season, as well as among different populations and across geographical regions.  Furthermore, the probability of an individual’s post-vaccination protection is impacted by 2 primary factors: 1) his/her characteristics (e.g., age, health status) and 2) the vaccine’s match between its pre-designed target viruses and the viruses spreading within the person’s community.  A March 2015 study showed seasonal influenza vaccination prevented more than 40,000 flu-related deaths in the U.S. between 2005 and 2014.1

Hundreds of millions of Americans have been safely vaccinated against influenza during the past 50 plus years.  Risk of significant side effects is extremely low, and flu vaccine safety is supported by extensive surveillance and research.

What can Athletic Trainers do to help prevent the flu?

▪ Educate yourself regarding influenza, which affects millions worldwide and can result in serious outcomes for some.  It’s not just an uncomfortable inconvenience.

▪ Promote flu vaccination in your work setting.  The prevalent misinformation on vaccines can cause unwarranted fear and avoidance.

▪ Enact communicable illness prevention and management policies and procedures. Get started with CDC’s recommendations for infection control in healthcare facilities.  Make it known that sick staff, patients and athletes should stay home.

▪ Protect yourself by getting a flu shot, as well as by employing other proven prevention techniques, such as proper hand-washing.

Bottom line: Flu vaccination is the best available protection against this potentially serious illness.

Resource

1. Foppa et al. Deaths averted by influenza vaccination in the U.S. during the seasons 2005/06 through 2013/14. Vaccine, Volume 33, Issue 26, Pages 3003-3009.

Thompson et al. Estimating influenza-associated deaths in the United States. Am J Public Health, 99 (Suppl. 2) (2009), pp. S225–S230.

Molinari et al. The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US: measuring disease burden and costs. Vaccine. 2007 Jun 28;25(27):5086-96.