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Flu Vaccination is a Team Sport

November 10, 2017 Leave a comment
This week, as we wrap up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Flu Blog-a-thon, we hear from Serese Marotta of Families Fighting Flu about how we all pay a role in flu prevention.

Most people know that the flu is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease. What they don’t always realize is that flu prevention is a team sport.

It’s great when individuals get vaccinated. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older.  But flu vaccination is not just about us as individuals. Healthy communities rely on cooperation and coordination of everyone – from family members to healthcare professionals. 

Flu is worth preventing.  

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  • According to the CDC, every year in the United States, the flu kills upwards of 56,000 people, which typically includes about 100 children. That’s more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • The CDC estimates that since 2010, hospitalizations due to flu ranged from approximately 140,000 to 710,000 cases per year, with hospitalizations of children five years of age and younger ranging from 7,000 to 26,000 cases per year.

Flu vaccination is critical to keeping our communities healthy. 

According to a recent study, the flu vaccine was found to prevent death in otherwise healthy children by as much as 65 percent. Also, it can reduce the risk of flu illness for the general population by up to 60 percent when the vaccine is well-matched to circulating strains.

The “community immunity” that is achieved when large numbers of a population vaccinate is particularly important. People in high-risk groups such as babies younger than 6 months old who are too young to receive a flu vaccination, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, are not only more susceptible to suffering with flu, but also more likely to suffer complications if they fall victim to flu.

We all play a role on the flu prevention team. 

Parents

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Children are often the “spreaders” of germs in their communities, which may explain why children have the highest rate of infection from flu. On average, children miss more than 38 million school days due to flu in the U.S., which can result in medical expenses and time off from work for parents. Young children are also at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu, including hospitalization and death. Since parents are responsible for vaccinating themselves and their children against flu, they can be considered the “Captains” of our flu prevention team. 

 

Healthcare Professionals

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Research shows that a strong recommendation for annual flu vaccination from healthcare professionals is an important factor to improving vaccination rates. Most adults believe in the importance of vaccination, but sometimes need an annual reminder to actually do it. 

That’s why Families Fighting Flu has developed a new educational resource for healthcare professionals in collaboration with the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and HealthyWomen. Through this collaboration entitled Do You Know the Flu?, we are arming healthcare professionals with the resources they need to effectively communicate the importance of flu vaccination to patients of all ages.

School Nurses and Teachers

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Studies have shown that high vaccination rates among school children (50 to 70%) can dramatically reduce the overall burden of disease in the entire community. Families Fighting Flu recognizes the role that school nurses and teachers play in educating school-aged children and their families. This is why we’ve developed our Keep Flu out of School program. By collaborating with the CDC, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the National Association of School Nurses, Families Fighting Flu has worked closely with a team of professionals to provide critical resources to school nurses and teachers to assist them with flu prevention efforts in their communities.

Co-Workers

Flu is not only a public health issue, but also an economic one. Flu costs the U.S. economy an estimated $10.4 billion every year. According to a recent survey released in October, roughly three out of five Americans (61%) who had the flu or flu-like symptoms admitted to leaving home while ill, which can put others at risk. It’s no doubt that many of us have experienced a sick co-worker at the office who should have stayed home, but instead is now exposing others to flu.

Teammates 

Teamwork is critical to the success of any sports team. Because team mates spend a great deal of time together, it’s not uncommon to hear about professional or collegiate sports teams that have all fallen victim to the flu during important play-off games. That’s why it’s important for athletes to get an annual flu vaccination in an effort to stay healthy and Stay in the Game™.

While we each make a personal decision about flu vaccination, it is our hope that people will recognize that a choice not to get a flu vaccine could have a profound impact on our own health, as well as the health of our families, classmates, coworkers and teammates.

While there is a “U” in flu, there is no “I” in “team”. 

Vaccinate Your Family and Families Fighting Flu are two members of the national team of flu vaccination advocates. Together, we encourage all individuals six months of age and older to get their annual flu vaccination stop that you can Stay in the Game™.

For more information, visit the Families Fighting Flu website at www.familiesfightingflu.org.

3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Son to Flu

October 18, 2017 6 comments
By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

 

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Today is a hard day for me – it’s been eight years since I lost my five-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu.

I’m not the same person I was eight years ago. Today, I see things through a different lens as a bereaved parent. I am more compassionate, more empathic, and (generally) more understanding and patient. Losing a child is devastating, but I feel it’s my responsibility to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned through this personal tragedy.

So here’s what I want every parent to know:

1.  Every parent wants what’s best for their children.

I’ve come to realize that vaccination is a sensitive issue for many people. Some parents believe in vaccination, while others do not. But what we all agree on is that our decisions are motivated by our desire to protect our children.

Whether it’s a post on social media, or a televised interview on the news, we often witness a difference of opinions regarding the risks and benefits of vaccines.  However, we all make the choices we do with the information we have because we want to do what we THINK is best for our children. The disconnect occurs when we don’t agree on the validity of the information that’s available to us.

It’s not really the people that are divided, it’s actually the incorrect information on vaccines that we have allowed to divide us.

As parents, we are so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information out there, that sometimes it’s difficult to determine what’s true and what’s false. That’s why when I have conversations with people who are hesitant, or even opposed to vaccines, I find it’s best to listen to their concerns and start a mutually respectful dialogue. Attacking one another won’t help. We need to combat vaccine misinformation by providing the correct information. I don’t want a single parent to risk their child’s life, or their own, simply because they didn’t have the correct information about vaccines.

So here’s what I know for sure; across the globe, millions of children have died due to infectious diseases and continue to do so. Sadly, most of these deaths could be prevented with vaccines.  My son’s death certificate states “complications of H1N1”. I know for a fact that my child died from influenza. I also know, based on the available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that 1,472 children have died from influenza in the United States since 2004. And I know that the flu vaccine has been safely administered in the U.S. for more than 50 years.

How do I know this? Because I made sure I got the facts and I trust the science.

2. Flu vaccines save lives.

We have vaccines for a reason. Vaccines are not created for common, non-life-threatening ailments. The fact that there is even a flu vaccine should be enough to indicate the dangers of flu. Before Joseph died, I never would have thought in a million years that flu was a threat to my healthy child. I have always vaccinated myself and my children, including for flu. Joseph passed away due to H1N1 flu, which was not included in the seasonal vaccine in 2009. The H1N1 vaccine did not become available in our community until two weeks after Joseph passed away. I do believe that if he had been vaccinated for H1N1, Joseph would likely still be here today.

Flu does not discriminate – it does not care if you’re young or old, rich or poor, healthy or immunocompromised. It’s important for people to know that flu can be a serious, even deadly, disease for anyone. Before Joseph died I was more scared of him getting hit by a car or kidnapped by a stranger. Death from flu was not even on my radar. Now I know more about flu than I ever wanted to.

During the 1918 flu pandemic, 20 to 50 million people lost their lives. Every year in the U.S., upwards of 56,000 people lose their lives due to flu, including approximately 100 children. As parents, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. So why wouldn’t we protect them from the flu, too?  The flu can kill even a healthy individual. But those who are vaccinated are much less likely to die from flu.

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3.  Grief is not a linear process.

Read more…

Did the Flu Take Down the Packers & the Steelers in the NFL Playoffs?

January 23, 2017 1 comment

In the final weeks of NFL play, as the Green Bay Packers competed against the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the New England Patriots, rumors circulated that several NFL players may have had the flu.  

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-34-51-pmSome sources say the players had fallen ill with a flu-like bug, though it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean.  It seems likely that a doctor’s exam, along with a flu test, could confirm, with relative certainty, whether these players were in fact suffering from influenza.

Some sources reported that the players have had the “stomach flu, which is confusing since there is really no such thing as a “stomach flu“. With flu, some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-1-41-49-pmis more common in children than adults.  It is much more likely that these symptoms alone suggest gastrointestinal issues that are often referred to as stomach bugs, which again, should not be confused with influenza.

Then there’s the reference to the “24-hour flu in a report from ESPN Staff Writer, Jeremy Fowler.  The article leads with a statement that up to 15 people in the Pittsburgh Steelers facility suffered a setback from a “24-hour flu bug”.  To clarify, the flu is never a 24 hour ordeal.  Rather, the flu can last as long as 5-10 days.

In an interview on NFL.com, we hear sportscaster Charley Casserly and former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Redskins saying,

“Some of the best games I had players play in was when they were ill.  They had the flu. Hey, I don’t know what it is, but the flu, the flu could be good.  It could be good for those players.  A lot of them play well.”

I’m guessing Casserly doesn’t know much about the flu.  He has probably never had it himself or he wouldn’t suggest that players could play well while suffering with it.

This varied media coverage of these high-profile athletes and their suspected illnesses is just another example of how the public continues to be misinformed about the flu.

The flu is a serious illness, that kills and hospitalizes thousands of people in the U.S. each year.  Yet the majority of people I talk to, day after day, are unfamiliar with flu symptoms and the dangers of flu.

Yesterday I had dinner with a good friend – a friend who was only in town because she had traveled four hours to bring her college-aged son back to campus after he had been home suffering with the flu for over a week. She explained that she had never had the flu, nor had either of her two college-aged children.  Therefore, she had never even considered the need for a flu vaccine.  She then went on to explain that she never knew how bad it could be, until she saw her son lying in bed for days. He was very ill and lost 10 pounds in one week.  As he describes it, “It was the most awful thing and I’ve never been that sick ever.Read more…

What You Should Know to Prepare for Flu This Season

September 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Earlier today, Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC, joined leading medical and public health experts at the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) News Conference to discuss the upcoming 2016-2017 flu season and vaccination coverage results from last season.

While flu season doesn’t “officially” begin until October 1st, Dr. Frieden reminded the public that the flu is unpredictable and there is no way to know when the virus will be circulating in your community.  This is why experts recommend getting yourself and your family members vaccinated now.

During his opening remarks, Dr. Frieden explained that the CDC has already tested 5,000 viruses and has begun to identify cases of flu across the U.S.  While it appears that this year’s vaccine will be a good match to the strains that were circulating at the end of last year, he explained that there’s no way to predict what type of flu season we will have in 2016-2017.  The best that we can do is to be get vaccinated.  flu

Dr. Frieden conceded that flu vaccination is not perfect. While we all wish it were better, he urged everyone over 6 months of age to get vaccinated since a flu vaccine can reduce a person’s risk of flu by at least 50%.  Flu vaccination also substantially reduces the risk of hospitalizations and other complications, while also reducing the risk of death.  In a bad year, the flu kills up to 49,000 Americans, 100 of which are infants and children.  Sadly, about 90% of the children who have lost their lives to flu were unvaccinated.

The most promising statement Dr. Frieden made in his opening remarks helped illustrate the enormous impact flu vaccination can have on our health and our communities. 

“If we could increase influenza vaccination coverage by just 5%, we would prevent 800,000 illnesses and almost 10,000 hospitalizations.”

Childhood Flu Vaccination According to the Numbers

Over the years, we’ve been making progress in increasing flu vaccination rates, however there is still plenty of room for improvement.

For example, Patricia Whitley-Williams, M.D., NFID Vice President and Division Chief and Professor of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, stated that ten years ago only about 10-20% of children ages 6-23 months of age were vaccinated against flu. In contrast, last year about 75% of kids in that same age group were vaccinated for flu, exceeding our national public health goal.

Unfortunately, the goal has yet to be met in other age groups. Dr. Whitley-Williams explained that as kids get older, flu vaccination rates tend to decline, with only 47% of children 13-17 years being vaccinated last year.  This has had a direct impact on the 20,000 kids under the age of 5 who are hospitalized with flu related complications in this country every year.  While roughly 46% of people over the age of 6 months old were vaccinated last season, there were still 30 million kids that didn’t get a flu vaccine.

Vaccinating Healthcare Workers 

fight-flu-banner_585x338We are making progress among healthcare workers as well. The data indicates that 9 out of 10 healthcare workers were vaccinated last year, and there was also a slight increase in coverage among healthcare personnel working in long-term care settings such as nursing homes.  Yet, flu vaccination rates among adults age 50 and above decreased by  3% last year.

Importance of Flu Vaccine for Aging Adults 

Wilbur H. Chen, M.D., Associate Professor, University of Maryland School of Medicine concluded the news conference by address the concerns of a growing adult population.  The number of people age 60 and older will soon outnumber children 5 and under, and the concern is that this older demographic is often the hardest hit by flu.

Approximately 70-90% of influenza deaths occur among people 65 and older, and 50-75% of flu related hospitalizations occur in this age bracket as well.  While people are living longer, they can’t avoid the fact that our immunological peak appears to occur somewhere around age 45.  As a person ages, their immune system begins to decline resulting in higher rates of infection, more severe infections, and a lesser immune response when vaccinated.  At an age when flu vaccination is vitally important, only 63% of adults over 65 were vaccinated for flu last season.  Flu vaccination is an effective way to reduce illness and hospitalizations among this age group, while also helping to prevent other health complications such as heart attack and stroke.

Since pneumococcal and flu often go together, Dr. Chen suggested that older adults consider getting a pneumococcal vaccine in addition to their annual flu vaccine, if they haven’t already done so.  There are two different pneumococcal vaccines that are recommended to the public; the first is for everyone 65 and over, while the other is for those under age 65 with certain health conditions. While pneumococcal sends half a million people to the hospital each year, 4 out of 10 Americans over 65 still haven’t received a pneumococcal vaccine.

Importance of Flu Vaccination in Pregnancy

pregnant-women-vaccinated-by-flu-shotExperts continue to emphasize the benefits of flu vaccination among pregnant women.  Expectant woman are six times more likely to die from flu when pregnant, and contracting the flu during pregnancy can result in dangerous complications, to include pre-term labor.  Studies have shown that vaccinating pregnant woman can help protect the mother and her pregnancy while also transferring passive immunity on to their babies which can help protect them against flu for several months after they are born, while they are too young to be vaccinated themselves.  While flu vaccination coverage for pregnant women remained similar to previous season at 49.9%, this statitic measn that nearly half of all pregnant women and their babies are not protected from flu.

No Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine This Year

One of the biggest changes in the flu vaccine recommendations for the 2016-2017 season involves the elimination of the use of the nasal spray flu vaccine this year.   Read more…

Trivializing the Flu – It’s What Healthy Adults Tend To Do

September 27, 2016 47 comments

It’s not uncommon for healthy adults to skip their annual flu vaccine.  In fact, it’s estimated that only about 40% of adults receive an influenza vaccine each year – a preventive measure that the CDC recommends for everyone age 6 months of age and older, with rare exception.

While adults tend to understand that the flu can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly, they often don’t get vaccinated because they just don’t consider themselves at risk.

Why? 

I imagine it’s because we’re living in a time when modern medicine is so advanced.  The average American just doesn’t consider it likely that a healthy adult could die from something so common as the flu? One would imagine that those at greatest risk of death from flu would be young children, the elderly or people who have underlying health conditions, right?

ceciliaheadshot-250x378While it is true that there are certain demographics of people who may be more likely to suffer severe consequences from flu, it does not mean that a healthy adult is not also at risk of hospitalization or death. As Michael Pulgini explains, the flu is “aggressive, sneaky, and potentially deadly” and “no one is invincible” just because you are young, strong, or healthy.

You see, Michael is one of those healthy adults who refused the flu shot last season, citing that he felt it wasn’t necessary and suspecting it might make him sick.  Michael ended up contracting the flu, but recovered after about five days of body aches, fever, runny nose and cough.

But what continues to haunt Michael today is the fact that his wife also fell victim to the flu – but sadly, she never recovered.  

Michael now lives with the horrifying memory of watching his beautiful wife Cecilia suffer and die from the very disease that he had previously trivialized.

After Michael had recovered, Cecilia started to show signs of illness, such as runny nose, body aches and pains, and a weird symptom that caused her upper lip to swell.  She made several visits to the doctor, and the last visit occurred about eight or nine days after her first symptoms appeared.  This time, she was complaining of shortness of breath.  The doctor gave her an injection to help open up her airways, but within 30 hours Cecilia was in terrible distress and her breathing was very rapid and shallow.  A chest x-ray at the hospital showed one lung was completely covered in puss and fluid from an infection.

cecilialipDoctors explained that the influenza virus continued to replicate, hitting Cecilia full force and completely overpowering her body’s ability to fight off the infection.

They also told Michael something he will never forget;

If she had been vaccinated against influenza, there was a 90% chance she wouldn’t be here [in the hospital] like this.”

Sadly, Cecilia was put into a medically induced coma.  They intubated her and put her on a ventilator since she was unable to breathe on her own. All the while, Michael believed in his heart that she would pull through because she was young and strong.

But Michael was wrong.  He explains,

Read more…

How Social Networks Can Influence Flu Vaccination Decisions

December 12, 2015 1 comment

This blog post initially appeared as part of the NFID inaugural 2015 National Influenza Immunization Week (NIVW) Blog Relay.

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As a communications specialist and mother of five, I’m extremely passionate about immunization education and the power of social networks. Everything that I do as the social media manager for Every Child By Two (ECBT) is done in support of their goal to provide people with evidence-based information about vaccines so that they can make well-informed immunization decisions for themselves and their family.

Since Every Child By Two’s social media platforms (including the Vaccinate Your Family Facebookpage, @EveryChildBy2 and @ShotofPrev Twitter accounts, and Shot of Prevention blog) reach more than 7 million followers, we are committed to educating the public about a broad array of issues. This includes news about outbreaks of preventable diseases, new vaccine developments and recommendations, vaccine safety and efficacy studies, and steps our readers can take to advocate for strong, science-based immunization policies.

Vaccinate Your Family

However, each year-right around this time of the season-we are typically focused on one important issue: influenza (flu). 

It’s been five years since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a universal flu vaccine recommendation in which they recommended everyone six months of age and older should get an annual flu vaccine.

Less than half of the US population received flu vaccine in the past season…clearly, we still have work to do.

While vaccination rates continue to rise each year, common flu vaccine myths that keep people from vaccinating persist and are often shared among social media networks. Therefore, one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of flu (besides getting vaccinated, of course) is to use our own social media influence to counter the prolific misinformation and refer people to reputable immunization resources.

There are several ways that Every Child By Two is working to do this:

Highlighting the Dangers of Flu

fluWith the introduction of our new Vaccinate Your Family program, families can now go to ECBT’s social media platforms, or the new Vaccinate Your Family website, to obtain information about influenza vaccines recommended for pregnant women, children, adolescents, and adults.

Studies show that people are more motivated to protect themselves from a vaccine-preventable disease when they have a clear understanding of the risks of the disease, which is why the new website houses scientifically-accurate information on influenza vaccines for each stage of life; details about the burden of influenza; and personal stories from those who have been affected by flu.

By combining compelling disease statistics with personal stories, we have been able to create powerful infographics and blog posts that are being shared in record numbers.

For instance, earlier this week, our Shot of Prevention blog posted 147 Kids Died From Flu Last Year. My Scarlet Was One of Themin which
Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.25.47 PM.pngRebecca Hendricks explains how little she knew about flu before her precious daughter
Scarlet died last season. Her honesty and disbelief over the dangers of the flu, along with her resolve to prevent further tragedy by encouraging others to get vaccinated, has clearly resonated with people. In just a few short days more than half a million people saw her Facebook post and thousands continue to share it daily. In January this year, Joe Lastinger’s story, Our Life Without Emily: Flu, Fear, Guilt and Regret,was similarly popular among social networks.

pht_luke2These personal stories, as well Luke’s story of a teen athlete who spent a month hospitalized due to influenza, are all part of a bigger strategy to elevate the message that flu is dangerous, and sometimes even deadly.

In these examples, the power of the personal story is helping us to reach new audiences with an important message. However, the same tactic is often used on social media to perpetuate inaccurate flu vaccine myths. This is why we must consistently accompany these personal stories with evidence-based information and create a conversation about the safety and benefits of flu vaccination.

Educating People About the Benefits of Flu Vaccines

Every Child By Two’s social media engagement allows us to interact with people in real time and address questions and concerns.

During the NFID inaugural 2015 National Influenza Immunization Week (NIVW) Blog Relay, guest bloggers, including several prominent medical professionals, answered common questions like “Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?”, “Do I need a flu vaccine each year?”, and “Should pregnant women be vaccinated against flu?”  These medical professionals are experts on the subject of immunizations. However, they do not have the physical capacity to speak to every person who has questions and concerns. This is why we ask that you join us in elevating accurate evidence-based information across your own social networks.

Not only can we work together to address concerns quickly, but we can also refer them to reputable sources for more information and suggest they continue the conversation with their healthcare professional.

Share all the informative posts from the NFID inaugural 2015 National Influenza Immunization Week (NIVW) Blog Relay. Subscribe to our Shot of Prevention blog, follow Vaccinate Your Family on Facebook, and @ShotofPrev on Twitter.

Together we can elevate our voices in support of flu vaccination.

Thank you to NFID for including us in their NIVW Blog Relay.  Follow NFID on Twitter (@nfidvaccines) using the hashtags #FightFlu and #NIVW, like NFID on Facebook, join the NFID Linkedin Group, and subscribe to NFID Updates.

CDC Answers Top Questions About Flu

September 25, 2015 Leave a comment

NFID News

Dan Jernigan, CDCAt the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) 2015 Annual Influenza/Pneumococcal News Conference held in Washington, DC last week, expert panelists spoke about the burden of influenza (flu) in the US and the importance of annual flu vaccination as the best way to protect yourself and your family.

Special thanks to Daniel B. Jernigan, MD, MPH, Director of the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for sharing his perspective on the importance of annual flu vaccination for all people 6 months of age and older.

How serious is the flu?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that can cause mild to severe illness. Flu seasons can vary in severity depending on what viruses are circulating, but the flu is much more than a nuisance or common cold. Every flu season, millions of people get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized…

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