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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.

Make Sure Your College Student Has These Shots Before Returning To Campus

iStock_000078067721_Double.jpgTeens and young adults have a tendency to believe they’re completely invincible.  But their lifestyle – which often involves high levels of stress, inadequate amounts of sleep and close living quarters – can put them at an increased risk of certain infections such as flu, mumps, meningitis and HPV.  As students return to class after winter break, they’re  reunited with classmates, roommates, and professors who may have been exposed to infectious diseases during their travels to other states or other countries.

While it’s impossible to prevent every cough and sniffle, parents can help protect their kids by ensuring they’re up-to-date on all their recommended vaccines.

So what are all the vaccines that are recommended for teens and young adults?  

And wouldn’t they be required for school anyway?

Vaccine requirements vary by state and don’t necessarily include all the vaccines that the CDC recommends. Therefore, as winter break come to an end, parents should review their students’ immunization records and arrange for them to get any missing shots before they return to class.

Here are a few of the diseases that students should be protected against.

Influenza

Influenza is a dangerous viral infection that causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year in the U.S., even among health people of all ages.  For the best protection, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine.

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Unfortunately, while flu vaccination rates are typically the highest among children, rates tend to drop among teens and young adults. If your college student hasn’t already received their annual flu vaccine it’s not too late.  Bring them to their healthcare provider or local pharmacy to get them protected before they return to campus. Although it can take up to two weeks to develop antibodies post-vaccination, flu season often extends well into Spring, so students will benefit from protection for many months to come.

Mumps

Mumps may not be considered “common” in the U.S. thanks to a 99% decrease in mumps cases once mumps vaccination began in 1967, but there have been several mumps outbreaks on college campuses in the past year, and approximately 4,258 cases across 46 states and DC in 2016.

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This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you consider that crowded environments, such a large classes and dormitory living can all contribute to the likelihood of outbreaks.  Also, since mumps is spread primarily through saliva, coughing and sneezing, teen behaviors such as kissing or sharing plates, utensils, cups, lipstick or cigarettes, are all factors that can increase the likelihood of transmission. Read more…

Triumph Over Smallpox Reminds Us That Vaccines Help Prevent Disease Every Day

Every Child By Two’s State of the ImmUnion campaign is honoring National Immunization Awareness Month (#NIAM16) with a Blog Relay highlighting the importance of vaccines across the lifespan and across the nation.

Parker.Heidi__vertical_0In this guest post, we hear from Heidi Parker, MA, Executive Director of Immunize Nevada.  She reminds us that promoting health and preventing disease is not just a cause to recognize during the month of August; instead, it is something we need to do each and every day.

By Heidi Parker, MA, Executive Director of Immunize Nevada

Dr. Donald A. Henderson passed away recently, with little media attention or fanfare. This is alarming, considering “saving millions of lives” was listed as one of his life accomplishments.

22Henderson1-obit-master768In case you’re wondering who he is, Dr. Henderson led the global effort to eradicate smallpox — a disease that, in the 20th century and before it was extinguished, was blamed for at least 300 million deaths. Clearly, his triumph over smallpox proved the power of vaccines.

During National Immunization Awareness Month, we are reminded that promoting health and preventing disease is not just a cause to recognize during the month of August; instead, it is something we need to do each and every day.

We must be relentless, much like Dr. Henderson was. Why? Because our news feeds continue to be filled with stories of vaccine-preventable diseases – a teen dies from meningococcal diseasea summer camp closes due to a whooping cough outbreakcollege campuses battle mumpsmeasles spreads at music festivalsan infant too young to be vaccinated dies from pertussis; the list goes on.

In the United States, vaccines have reduced — and in some cases, eliminated — many of the diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. My great-grandfather died during the 1918 Influenza Flu Pandemic, along with millions of others; but decades later, our family is protected from this deadly virus when we get our annual flu shot. By vaccinating children against rubella (German measles), the risk that pregnant women will pass this virus on to their fetus or newborn has been dramatically decreased, and birth defects associated with that virus are now rarely seen. Countless examples like these demonstrate, day after day, vaccines are one of public health’s greatest achievements.

Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Americans still suffer serious health problems, are hospitalized, and even die from vaccine-preventable diseases. 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.

Friday Flu Shot: Personal Experience

October 7, 2011 26 comments

October marks the official start of influenza season.  To  highlight the dangers of the flu and the benefits of vaccination, I plan to incorporate a new feature called “Friday Flu Shots” throughout the course of the next few months.

Today’s Friday Flu Shot focuses on personal experiences.

Just last week I was chatting with a neighbor at the bus stop.  She was talking about the health problems of her asthmatic son.  When I casually asked if she had gotten him his flu shot yet, she matter-of-factly explained that her husband had the shot once before and then he got really sick with the flu.  Somehow that “experience” has since kept all three of her children, as well as herself and her husband, from getting an influenza vaccine each year.

Now, I can’t say that I was surprised by her responses.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard these similar objections before.  As well as many others.

To be honest, if people are looking for a reason NOT to vaccinate for the flu, there are plenty of excuses to be used. Read more…

An Epidemic of Apathy Towards Seasonal Flu

December 13, 2010 22 comments

This article was originally printed as a guest post on BlogHer, Dec. 7, 2010, under the title, Why Everyone Should Get A Flu Shot, in honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week. 

By Christine Vara

Last year at this time, the H1N1 virus, also referred to as the “swine flu,” had us all rather panicked. People were anxious to get vaccinated against the flu then. But what about now?

My guess is that the media attention given to the H1N1 epidemic last year left a skeptical public uncertain about the impact of the flu, and the safety and effectiveness of flu shots in general.

Regrettably, H1N1 made itself personally known to my family last year when my own 9-year-old daughter, Marissa, received a positive diagnosis. Unfortunately, she contracted H1N1 before a vaccine became available. I’ll admit that my husband and I were very concerned.  In the back of our minds, we knew that she could easily become a tragic statistic, and the feeling was one of helplessness.

We did our best to quarantine her in order to keep the virus from spreading to our other four children. We tried to make her as comfortable as possible in her room, and gave her a walkie-talkie to call us with when she needed something. My husband even downloaded a week’s worth of Brady Bunch, Partridge Family and Happy Days reruns to keep her entertained. Her sisters slipped get well cards under her door and we served her meals on special trays that only my husband or I would handle and deliver.

After a week or so, my daughter recovered and resumed life as usual. It sure is interesting how a brief brush with an unpredictable disease can change your perspective. The unspoken fear that we faced last year has faded into a childhood memory for Marissa. Surprisingly, it appears that public memory has been short-lived as well — which troubles me as a mom of five active kids.

Due to the heightened concern from last year’sH1N1 outbreak, I would have guessed that more people would be inclined to get flu shots this year. Unfortunately, it appears that a significant portion of the public is more concerned about potential side effects of the vaccine than with the consequences of falling ill with influenza.

A survey of 1,500 adults, recently conducted by The Consumer Reports National Research Center, indicated that 30 percent of those surveyed will skip the flu shot this year, citing concerns about side effects, exaggerated epidemic messages, and a desire to build up their own immune systems.

Another recent Time article indicates that this sentiment is echoed among many parents. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) questioned more than 600 mothers of kids ages 6 to 18, and revealed that 80 percent of mothers said their attitude toward vaccination was not swayed by last year’s H1N1 scare and one-third were opting to forgo flu vaccination for their children, citing fear of side effects as their main concern.

What the public may fail to understand is that seasonal flu vaccines are extremely safe. Consider the fact that flu vaccines are administered year after year to a large percentage of the population. Because of this, they are some of the most widely used and well tested immunizations being administered today and their safety record is proven.

So what is all the worry about? Some minimal discomfort and minor side effects? 

Unfortunately, many of the common worries are actually based on unfounded myths.

To read the remainder of this post click here.  You will be redirected to the BlogHer website.  Feel free to submit your comments there, or include them here on Shot of Prevention. 

Vaccinations “Cocoon” Infants Too Young to be Immunized

December 7, 2010 4 comments

By Christine Vara

When our first child was born, my husband and I were intent on protecting her from harm.  While we were probably like most new parents, I’ll admit my husband went to a few extremes.  He would constantly analyze the position of the car seat to ensure her airways would not be restricted. He would tip toe into her room at night to ensure she was breathing.  Once, we drove 14 hours to visit family, only for him to deny everyone the opportunity to hold her.  They all teased him for his constant hovering, but they should have been grateful.  What he really wanted to do was hand out surgical masks.   While he received a great deal of ribbing for his defensive tactics, he was just doing his best to protect her.     

The unfortunate reality is that we can’t raise our children in the proverbial “bubble” – even though that’s what we’d like to do.  But that hasn’t stopped one determined couple from trying, and I can’t say that I blame them. 

Sadly, the Van Tornhout family has suffered what must be the greatest pain imaginable. After five years and four miscarriages, Katie and Craig Van Tornhout, along with their son Cole, were overwhelmed with joy at the arrival of baby Callie into their lives.  Their happiness soon turn to devastation when Callie fell ill with pertussis at just five weeks old, and in a matter of days, quickly lost her battle with this highly contagious disease. 

Today, almost a year after losing Callie, Katie Van Tornhout is preparing to deliver another baby.  While they are certainly thrilled by this new blessing, the family is admittedly quite emotional and cautious as they prepare for the arrival of yet another miracle in their lives.  One way in which they intend to protect this precious baby is to insist that anyone who wishes to visit their newborn be up to date on their pertussis booster.  This includes family, friends and even hospital employees.  The truth is, we can take precautions like washing our hands and covering our coughs, but diseases are often transmitted through droplets in the air and immunization through vaccination has proved to be the best defense against a wide variety of diseases, including flu and pertussis. 

In the case of pertussis, full immunization isn’t typically achieved until a child has received all three doses of DTaP vaccine series which begins at 2 months of age, continues at 4 months and then concludes with the final dose at 6 months.  In the case of seasonal influenza, the vaccine is recommended annually but only for children over the age of six months.  Because of these limitations, children under six months remain most vulnerable to both pertussis and flu in those fragile early months of life.    

In response to the current pertussis outbreaks in states like California, where 10 children have already died just this year, public health officials are desperately trying to educate people regarding the importance of adult pertussis boosters, administered as TdaP shots.  Prior to the birth of a new baby, parents and family members are encouraged to be vaccinated, while pregnant women are being advised to receive their booster shot just after delivery, if they haven’t already been vaccinated before pregnancy. 

In regards to flu protection, everyone over the age of 6 months is encouraged to be vaccinated.  Additionally, pregnant women should know that vaccination during pregnancy offers triple protection.  First, changes to a woman’s immune system during pregnancy can make her more sensitive to the flu and result in serious complications if she is infected.  Secondly, pregnant woman who fall ill with the flu have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery.  Another significant consideration in favor of flu vaccine for pregnant women is that a mother’s own immunity can be passed on to their unborn child.  In fact, the Wall Street Journal Health blog, recently reported on a study published by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that found that babies born to pregnant women who were vaccinated against the flu were 41% less likely to develop the flu themselves.  This is a considerable benefit of vaccination that pregnant women may not be aware of, but is an easy way to help protect their unborn children.  

To further ensure protection of these young and vulnerable children, whose immune systems are not sufficiently developed to handle the vaccine or the illness, it becomes imperative that family members and others who come in contact with these infants get vaccinated themselves.  By surrounding a child with people who are immunized, it forms a virtual “cocoon” around them, helping to prevent them from falling ill and suffering complications, hospitalizations and the possibility of death.   

In light of the Van Tornhout’s newest arrival, and the fact that it happens to be National Influenza Vaccination Week, we hope that more people will take steps to ensure everyone in their family is up to date on their pertussis booster and vaccinated against seasonal flu.  Remember, these simple steps you take will not only protect your family,  but will also help prevent the spread of disease to others, including those like newborn Baby Van Tornhout’s, and all the other children out there that are too young to be vaccinated.