by Mike Lee
The flu season is right around the corner. And if Colorado hopes to prevent a repeat of last year’s epidemic then nurses will be a major player when it comes to making sure enough people are vaccinated.
That’s the message from Nancy Larson, RN, MS, and prevention specialist for Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
"Nursing plays a major role in the prevention of influenza because nurses participate in the planning and staffing for flu clinics," Larson said. "Nurses, both RN and LPNs administer the shots at our mass flu clinics and walk-in flu shot clinics. Nurse representatives from the medical offices are members of the Flu Workgroup."
The Kaiser Permanente Flu Workgroup is a multidisciplinary task force that includes physicians, nurses, medical office administrators, pharmacists and Prevention Department members.
The flu workgroup is sponsored by the Prevention Department and meets monthly all year to plan our annual mass flu shot clinics.
And after last year’s outbreak, the workgroup could be working overtime. Colorado suffered through one of the worst outbreaks in recent history with the flu claiming several lives, among them several children.
At Kaiser Permanente, nurses encourage members to receive flu shots when they are giving telephone advice or working with physicians as partners on care teams. Nurses give flu shots in nursing homes and to our members in assisted living situations.
The entire state is bracing for the flu season.
Just this past week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged all Colorado health care workers to receive flu shots to protect themselves and the patients they care for.
Dr. Ellen Mangione, assistant chief medical officer and director of the department’s Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division, said, "Pneumonia and influenza together are the fifth leading cause of death among older adults. Protecting Colorado residents and patients is a top priority, and ensuring that many more health care workers, who in past years had a low immunization rate of only 36 percent, are immunized is one way to help."
Mangione said the Colorado effort is part of a national campaign being spotlighted during National Adult Immunization Week, which begins on Sunday, September 26, and continues through Saturday, October 2. This year’s theme for the week is "Immunization: Building a Pathway to a Healthy Tomorrow."
"Immunization is a patient and employee safety priority. Some studies indicate that health care workers are primarily responsible for bringing this highly contagious virus into a facility and for exposing vulnerable patients and residents," said Mangione. "Improving health care worker influenza immunization rates is crucial."
Several reasons have been reported for health care workers not receiving the influenza vaccine, including concern about side effects; perception of a low personal risk of contracting the virus; inconvenience; and dislike of needles, according to Mangione.
Mangione stressed that overcoming these obstacles is vital because influenza outbreaks not only put patients and residents of long-term care facilities at risk, but can also create or aggravate staffing shortages, limit admissions and increase health care costs.
At Kaiser Permanente, Larson’s job is prevention. She co-chairs several task forces that are related to prevention initiatives and coordinates the work plan for these task forces.
Along with Clinical Pharmacist Adam Jackson, Larson co-chairs the Immunization Task Force and the Flu Workgroup.
The Immunization Task Force is responsible for determining Kaiser Permanente’s immunization policies and guidelines.
"It is almost impossible to predict how bad a flu season will be," Larson said. "The odds are that it won’t be a severe flu season this year because we had a moderately severe season last year. Influenza is a reportable communicable disease. Each state health department has a surveillance system for reporting flu illness in their state."
The Colorado State Department of Public Health and Environment has a network of physicians, many of which are Kaiser Permanente physicians, who agree to do active surveillance for flu-like illnesses and report them to the health department.
The physicians participating in the surveillance program obtain lab cultures on a representative population with flu-like illnesses in order to positively identify flu-like illness as real influenza and to identify the strain.
"We really don’t know the complete picture until the end of the flu season," Larson said. "Of course, the number of school absences and the number of people seeking medical care for flu-like illness are also good indicators of the severity of the season."
Epidemics of influenza have been responsible for approximately 36,000 deaths every year since 1900.
Over 115,000 people are hospitalized with influenza and 40% are young children.
Preventing the flu prevents many hospitalizations for flu-related illness, missed work time, and missed school time, Larson says.
She pointed out that the effects of influenza are expensive for society and for Kaiser Permanente.
"But our most important goal is to keep all of our members healthy and help them thrive during the flu season," Larson said.v