APIC Urges Health Workers to Get Flu Shot; 60 Percent Don’t

Amid reports that the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus could infect half of the U.S. population and the low rates of flu immunization among health care workers themselves, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) issued a press release urging health care institutions to require annual flu vaccines for all employees with direct patient contact. Immunization is a primary way to prevent the flu, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only about 40 percent of health care personnel receive yearly flu shots, APIC noted.

“Immunization will be especially critical for health care personnel during the 2009-2010 flu season because we will have more than one virus circulating,” said APIC President Christine J. Nutty, RN, MSN, CIC. “All health care workers, including those who are pregnant, need to be immunized against seasonal influenza and 2009 H1N1 virus when vaccines become available. This is vitally important to health care worker and patient safety.”

APIC further recommended that health care facilities obtain informed statements acknowledging the risk to patients from employees who decline the vaccine for reasons other than medical. “Employees who are not vaccinated can transmit both seasonal flu and H1N1 virus to vulnerable patients in health care institutions,” Nutty noted. “Current rates of health care worker immunizations are appallingly low and must not be tolerated. It’s time for hospitals to require flu shots--and hold employees accountable for declining the vaccine.”

Health care facilities should implement a comprehensive strategy incorporating all of the guidelines for influenza vaccination of health care personnel from the CDC’s Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the association said. APIC has published its recommendations in a position paper titled “Influenza Immunization of Healthcare Personnel,” at its Web site, www.apic.org.

“The rapid spread of H1N1 reminds us of what happens when a population has no immunity and underscores the importance of immunization to prevent influenza,” said Linda R. Greene, RN, MPS, CIC, lead author of APIC’s position paper and Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Rochester General Health System. “We want to be certain that health care personnel are protected against both seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 virus. Otherwise, facilities could face a double problem of increased illness and absenteeism among staff coupled with overcrowded emergency departments.”

APIC notes that influenza is a highly contagious disease that can spread before symptoms appear. If health care workers contract the flu, they may spread influenza infection to patients and other workers before realizing they are sick. CDC estimates that seasonal influenza results in 226,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths annually in the United States.

The association’s recommendations for influenza immunization apply to health care personnel in acute care hospitals, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, physician’s offices, urgent care centers, outpatient settings, and home health settings. All employees with direct patient contact should be immunized annually including physicians, nurses, therapists, dieticians, religious workers, environmental services, and kitchen staff, APIC urged.

More information about the 2009 H1N1 flu is available at www.apic.org/swineflu and www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

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