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PT and the Greater Good

Flu Epidemic... What Is Your Role?

Published January 15, 2013 11:08 AM by Dean Metz

It seems like just yesterday that fellow ADVANCE blogger, Janey Goude, wrote about the flu and vaccination. It was actually over two years ago, so in light of the current flu outbreaks, I thought I'd revisit the topic.

There has been great brouhaha in the news about our current epidemic, including the mayor of Boston declaring a health emergency because of it. There has been a lot of commentary on social media about the benefits and risks of being vaccinated. The comments have ranged from all-out support of vaccination to accusations of vaccines causing autism to theories of government conspiracy to wipe out most of the population so that pharmaceutical companies can make a profit. So who does one believe?

People in the US have become less likely to get a flu shot than those in the UK (CDC, 2012; Department of Health-England, 2012). Which is interesting given the more generous policies toward sick leave in the UK. In the US, most people have five or fewer days of sick leave available whereas in the UK there are few if any limits on sick leave. When I arrived in the UK four years ago, the uptake of the flu shot was only 18 percent in my region; it's now nearly 52 percent. I wonder why the change?

Personally, I get the shot because I only have five sick days available to me and I hate being sick. I also feel like it's my responsibility to my fellow workers who provide direct patient care. If I infect a nurse or therapist, then effectively I've infected all of their patients as well. Not everyone has to get the shot for the flu to be effectively stopped in its tracks. Here's an excellent explanation of "herd immunity" by the Harvard School of Health. 

So where do you stand on the flu shot? Have you gotten yours? Do you feel the risk outweighs the benefits? Have your feelings changed like the people of the UK? Is it a health professional's responsibility to get the vaccination? Would this fall under the heading of, "First, do no harm?"

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Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Early Season Flu Vaccination Coverage. Accessed Jan. 14, 2012, from: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/nifs-estimates-nov2012.htm

Department of Health England, Influenza, Green Book, Chapter 19; 7(4) pages 185-216. Accessed Jan. 14, 2012, from: https://www.wp.dh.gov.uk/immunisation/files/2012/07/Green-Book-Chapter-19-v4_71.pdf

6 comments

Dean,

Always a worthwhile discussion. Good information in the post and comments. Very interesting article about exercising. For those allergic to eggs, mandatory vaccination isn't reasonable. I like that the evil empire offered a viable option.

Whether or not you get the vaccine, there's a chance that you'll be exposed to a strain of flu virus the vaccine doesn't cover. Typically when the flu reaches epidemic proportion, an uncovered strain has hit. The experts missed the mark.

Bottom line: Whether or not you get the vaccine, personal responsibility and infection control measures still need to be stressed.

Stay home if you are sick. Remain home until you have completely recovered. That is the absolute best strategy for preventing the spread of the flu.

Practice proper hand washing and healthy living (eat well, exercise, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest). Those are the absolute best strategies for keeping yourself healthy.

Here's to a healthy 2013!

Janey Goude January 17, 2013 1:56 AM

 When I worked at the evil empire they gave employees a choice. Get the shot or wear a mask when on the job.  While there was a little grumbling I didn't run across anyone upset with the choices.  The rule applied to employees as well as physicians.  The majority of employees got the shot but I remember seeing masks.  

I get the shot every year because I have too many obligations to get sick.  This year, for the first time, I got sick anyway.  Ironically I was my sickest at a horse show.

Toni January 16, 2013 6:42 PM

A very interesting article today on how exercise can alter the potency of the flu shot!

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/how-exercise-can-boost-the-flu-shots-potency/

Dean Metz January 16, 2013 5:32 PM
New York NY

Very interesting topic - I did some stats work on this a few years ago - It was fascinating seeing the effectiveness (and in some instances lack of it seemed to depend on previous viral loading?) They are planning on bringing out a core generic vaccine in the next few years.

Also everyone goes on about bacterial resistance due to the wide use of them but no one discusses viral genetic mutation rates - anyone have any knowledge of this area?  

robin January 16, 2013 7:13 AM

This is a great topic considering health professionals have been fired for NOT getting one.  

The idea of being forced to put a substance into my body that may or may not actually be the correct vaccination for the season is hard to phathom.  I think it can reduce the symptoms if you get that particular strain of the flu virus.  And I am not sure exactly what is in the shot...some say a mixture of egg yolk and other "stuff".  

And, why is there a push for the flu shot and then there is a shortage and it is rationed for high risk people?  I think the CDC takes their best guess and decided which flu may come to the US.  Again, it is a guess, with no guarantee that it will actually be effective for everyone.

Patients get a choice whether they want one but in some health environments the workers do not get that same choice.  

Jason Marketti January 15, 2013 2:15 PM

I wrote about the same topic this week!  Great minds think alike.  

Lisa Mueller January 15, 2013 12:34 PM

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    Dean Metz
    Occupation: Staff Development Specialist
    Setting: New York, NY – Newcastle Upon Tyne, Great Britain
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