Health & Fit Get a flu shot, doctors say, warning that this could be a severe season
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As flu cases begin to pop up, medical experts say that though it’s hard to predict the severity of the upcoming season, there are indicators it could be harsh, reminiscent of the deadly influenza that spread two years ago.
Influenza patients have started to slowly trickle into doctors’ offices and hospitals in recent weeks, according to tracking by the Illinois Department of Public Health and other health departments, but activity remains low, as expected for October, officials said.
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But in examining this year’s flu in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere, which experiences its influenza season about six months ahead of the U.S., doctors say they’re bracing for a severe season and are warning patients to take precautions by getting vaccinated.
“They had a very bad season,” said Dr. Sharon Welbel, director of infectious disease at Cook County Health, noting that Australia had four times as many cases as the previous five years’ average, and twice as many deaths.
The predominant virus for the Southern Hemisphere was H3N2 — also blamed for the severe 2017-18 season in the U.S. that sickened 49 million people and killed nearly 80,000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called it the deadliest flu season in decades.
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Welbel said that while public health officials look at Australia’s season to help predict what might happen in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s not always accurate. She estimated that about “50 to 70% of the time we mirror what we saw in the Southern Hemisphere.”
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said this year’s flu vaccine was delayed as public health officials continued to determine which strains to include. But it’s now available, and anyone who is at least 6 months old should get one by the end of October, she said. Though it’s never too late, “the sooner the better.”
The H3N2 strain is included in the vaccine, and that particular strain is known to be more severe, Ezike said. However, strains can mutate, so they may not match what’s in the vaccine, she said, but “even if it’s not a perfect match, it’s going to be more protective than having nothing.”
CDC officials earlier this month urged pregnant women to get a flu shot after finding in a report that most do not get vaccinated for influenza and whooping cough despite advice to do so from their doctors.
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Dr. Michael Fitzgerald, a family medicine physician with DuPage Medical Group in Naperville, said that while he has yet to see a patient with the flu, “it’s on our radar.” Anyone who comes in with a fever, cough or sore throat is checked for flu, he added.
Because last year’s flu season was more mild — especially compared with the previous year’s severe one — Fitzgerald said he worries people may be complacent and skip their flu shot this year.
He said he’s been proactive in spreading the word to his patients, offering them the vaccine during visits, as well as hosting separate clinics where anyone can stop in for the shot.
“Flu hurts people; it hospitalizes people, and it kills people,” he said he tells his patients. With the flu shot, “really, you’re preventing hospitalization and death.”
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CHU Rouen facilitates the vaccination of its caregivers
While only a third of health professionals are vaccinated against influenza, hospitals develop strategies to convince them of the usefulness of the vaccine. This is the case of Rouen University Hospital.
Only a third of healthcare professionals working in hospitals, clinics or nursing homes had received the flu vaccine last year, according to. Thus, only 35.4% of health professionals in hospitals and clinics were vaccinated last year in metropolitan France with disparities depending on the profession: 68% of doctors are vaccinated, but only 36% of nurses and 21% of helpers -soignants.
An observation that makes health authorities say that "efforts remain to be made" since the vaccination of carers againstreduces the transmission of the virus to their patients, especially the most fragile.
In the hospital, nurses and doctors can vaccinate their colleagues
To increase the vaccination rate, some health institutions implement measures to promote the vaccine (posters, information sessions, playful supports ...) or facilitate the availability of the vaccine (free vaccination sessions in easily frequented places and with adapted schedules). This is particularly the case of the University Hospital Center (CHU) in Rouen, where free vaccination is offered to caregivers.
"The caregivers of our hospital have the opportunity to come and be vaccinated in the occupational health service," explains Dr. Jean-François Gehanno, professor of occupational medicine at the University Hospital of Rouen. In parallel, "we also organize delegations in each service where nurses and doctors can vaccinate their colleagues on the condition that they keep a record of the vaccinated people," he adds.
"Doctors relay the message pro-vaccine"
And all teams, regardless of their schedules, are aware of the importance of vaccination: "the carers of the occupational health service also move to late hours to hit night teams, "says Dr. Gehanno.
Another means of action: the organization of a "medical commission" so that "the doctors speak of vaccination in their service with the paramedical personnel who vaccinate themselves less well than them but who have confidence in the doctors with whom they work "explain the specialist. "In this case, doctors are relaying this message pro-vaccinal staff but also patients," he adds.
Convincing rather than obliging
A strategy implemented with the Normandy Regional Health Agency (ARS) is also to fight against the received ideas by means of training for example by means of posters reminding that "no, the vaccine against the flu is not likely to give the flu "and that the vaccine is not just about the frail.
The more radical step would be to impose a flu vaccination obligation on all caregivers. An extreme solution that Dr. Gehanno does not support: "what would caregivers who refuse to work do, would they be prevented from working?" He asks. "This is unthinkable, especially in the current tense situation in hospitals that are understaffed," says the doctor. "Rather than forcing them, it is better to convince them of the usefulness of being vaccinated," Dr. Gehanno concludes. A challenge facing France, with one in three French defying vis-à-vis vaccines.
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