Facts About Influenza

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease.  It can cause mild to severe illness, and is potentially fatal.  In fact, seasonal influenza is a major cause of death in the U.S. with approximately 36,000 deaths annually.  Those at high risk for serious flu complications include older people, young children and those with ongoing health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and asthma. 

How Flu Spreads
The flu spreads when people infected with the virus cough, sneeze or talk. That releases tiny droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.  A person might also catch the flu by touching a surface or object that has virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.

You can pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are infected. Those who become ill from influenza are most contagious from the day prior to the beginning of symptoms through day four of the illness.

The best way to protect yourself from the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.

BCH Influenza Vaccination Policy
BCH has taken action to protect our patients, employees and staff from exposure to the flu by implementing a policy that encourages all hospital physicians, employees, volunteers and contract workers to get vaccinated against the flu.  Along with the Centers for Disease Control and Protection and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, we support the concept that getting vaccinated is the most effective way to disrupt the spread of the flu.

Those BCH physicians, employees, volunteers or contract workers who do not receive an influenza vaccination  will be  required to wear a surgical/isolation mask at all times while in any BCH facility during influenza season.

Join Us in Protecting Our Community
We strongly encourage you to get vaccinated, too, since that helps disrupt the spread of the flu virus.  If vaccination is not right for you, please ask for a surgical mask when at the hospital during the flu season for tests, treatments or to visit a loved one.  Remember, even if you’re not feeling sick, you can still be contagious.

This flu season, separate vaccinations for H1N1 and seasonal influenza will not be necessary.  BCH will use a vaccine that covers both H1N1 and seasonal flu.

Thank you for joining us in this important effort to protect our community from the flu.

Flu Vaccine Policy Puts BCH on Honor Roll   
BCH has been named to the Immunization Action Coalition’s (IAC) honor roll, which recognizes organizations that have outstanding influenza vaccination policies.

The hospital has joined a list that includes The Children's Hospital of Denver, Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Johns Hopkins Health System and 90 other organizations that lead the nation in helping to protect patients from being exposed to the flu. To be on the honor roll, an organization's mandate must require influenza vaccination for employees and have safeguards to prevent transmission of influenza from unvaccinated workers to patients. 

The IAC works to increase immunization rates and prevent disease by educating health professionals and the public about safe and effective immunization services. More information about the honor roll can be found here.

This recognition reinforces our commitment to constantly improve patient safety and quality at BCH.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did BCH create an influenza vaccination policy?

Seasonal influenza is a leading cause of death in the U.S. with approximately 36,000 deaths annually. The majority of these deaths occur in older age groups, which is the same population that is most likely to seek medical care at BCH.  We know we can prevent some people from getting the flu by interrupting transmission of the disease by getting our staff vaccinated or having them wear a surgical mask.

We are committed to constantly improving patient safety and our quality of care.  This policy directly supports our goals by requiring our physicians, employees, and volunteers to get an influenza vaccination or wear a surgical mask while in BCH facilities for the duration of influenza season.

For years, we have required documented immunity or vaccination for other transmissible diseases -- such as varicella, measles and rubella.  So, there is strong precedent to justify a stringent influenza vaccination program.

Do other hospitals have an influenza vaccination policy?

BCH is not alone in developing a more stringent influenza vaccination program.  Hospitals across the U.S. have adopted similar policies, including the Johns Hopkins Health System, University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Denver and the seven HealthONE hospitals in Colorado.

Why does BCH encourage vaccination over wearing a mask?

Vaccination is convenient, necessary only one time per influenza season and offers protection throughout the season while at work and at home.  Wearing a mask is a daily effort and thought process and is uncomfortable to some, which makes compliance more difficult.

Why offer an alternative to vaccination?

Wearing a mask is a necessary alternative for individuals with medical or religious reasons for not getting the influenza vaccination, as well as those who are personally opposed to vaccinations.  They can still do their part to safeguard patients by wearing a mask at all times while in any BCH facility during influenza season.

Does influenza vaccine cause influenza?

The pieces of influenza virus contained within the flu shot are inactivated and are biologically unable to replicate and cause illness.  Some people have experienced flu-like symptoms after getting vaccinated.  Our infectious disease specialists say that’s because they got infected with the flu or a different viral infection right around the time they were vaccinated.    Vaccines don’t take effect immediately.  It takes 10-14 days for immunity to develop after a person gets vaccinated.   Those symptoms also could be related to stimulation of the immune system by the vaccine.

Is influenza vaccination safe?

The overwhelming majority of knowledgeable and credible medical sources agree that influenza vaccination is safe and effective at preventing this disease.  

When does BCH expect to begin vaccinating physicians, employees and volunteers?

Vaccines are available to physicians, employees and volunteers from October 18 through November 24.

How effective is seasonal influenza vaccine at ensuring that a person will not get influenza?

The effectiveness of the vaccine depends on how well the predicted subtypes of influenza that are included in the vaccine’s manufacture match the actual subtypes of influenza that circulate during flu season. It also depends on how healthy the vaccinated individual’s immune system is. In the case of a good match, 70-90% of vaccinated individuals will not get the flu.  It’s important to remember that a good level of immunity in the overall population also helps to protect those people who don’t get vaccinated, so widespread participation by hospital staff in a vaccination campaign will have a protective benefit to everyone who visits the hospital -- patients, visitors, etc.

Why did BCH wait until this year to implement a vaccination policy?

For several years we have been trying different approaches to increase our influenza vaccination rates among staff.  We have provided vaccines free of charge and made it very convenient for staff to receive shots.  While we made progress, we found that voluntary compliance hindered our ability to reach the high rate of vaccination that we wanted in order to protect our patients. 

Does the vaccine contain thimerosal or mercury?

Influenza vaccine is produced in single dose vials and multidose vials.  Multidose vials do contain some thimerosal which is a preservative that contains some mercury.  Anyone concerned about this preservative should request their immunization from a single dose package that does not contain thimerosal.  It is also important to note that each dose of influenza vaccine from a multidose vial contains less mercury than an average tuna fish sandwich.  Very extensive research into the claims that thimerosal is a danger to humans or associated with autism has not found any connection.

Is influenza vaccination associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)?

Some people have heard that flu vaccine has some connection with Guillain-Barré Syndrome.    There is substantial evidence that indicates many infectious illnesses -- including influenza -- are associated with GBS.   A recent study suggests that the risk of GBS from actual infection with influenza is four to seven times higher than the risk of GBS from vaccination.

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