VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network
Flu Vaccination Information
One after another, across the nation, people are decrying their influenza or “flu” shots, befuddled by the onset of severe cases that have driven them to their beds. “It is unfortunate that the vaccine this year was not a great match for the strain of flu virus the majority of the nation is dealing with,” declared Dr. Stephen Coombs, VISN 6 director of pharmacy operations. Coombs has led the VISN 6 flu prevention effort for several years. VISN 6 health care facilities are working hard to make sure Veterans and staff members are protected as much as possible throughout the flu season.
Coombs said that the CDC works hard to predict which strains of the flu virus will hit each season, and arranges for distribution of vaccines developed to defend against them. Sometimes the CDC misses the mark. This year, the strain that hit the country is not the strain the CDC had everyone prepare for. More unfortunate is that the spread of flu this season is “moderately severe.” According to a CDC estimate, the vaccine more than half the nation received won’t work very well against the strain spreading across the nation.
Veterans feeling symptomatic should immediately contact their primary care team for guidance. The Primary Care teams, now called PACTs (Patient Aligned Care Teams), have expanded hours and are able to see patients on the same day if needed. Typical symptoms include feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. Veterans not able to see a team member quickly can visit the nearest VA Emergency Department or Urgent Care facility.
Despite the reduced effectiveness of the vaccine against this particular strain, Coombs agrees with the CDC that it will still be helpful to get vaccinated, because the vaccine can still have a protective effect on an individual’s health condition. “CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination … because the vaccine can still prevent some infections with the circulating viruses and might also prevent serious complications requiring hospitalization. Also, the vaccine might protect against other influenza viruses that can circulate later,” according to the January 16 CDC update.
Several medical centers in the VISN, including Salisbury, Asheville, Fayetteville, and Durham have implemented visitation restrictions due to the increase of influenza cases in the community, and have communicated the restrictions as widely as possible. They have also emphasized the practice of basic infection prevention, including frequent hand-washing; maintaining social distances, like staying home with symptoms, or avoiding close contact; and covering coughs by directing them into the elbow crease when they happen. Medical centers have also positioned Respiratory Hygiene stations in waiting areas which include tissues, masks and hand sanitizer.
The worst may not be over. The CDC predicts the nation may be just halfway through the season, claiming that, “For the past 13 seasons, influenza seasons have ranged in duration, with an average of 13 weeks of increased activity. This season, as of the week ending January 3, 2015, influenza activity has been elevated for seven consecutive weeks, suggesting that the current influenza season might continue for several weeks.” So, VA medical centers will continue to enforce visitation restrictions and offer flu shots. Anyone who has not yet received the vaccine is strongly encouraged to receive it.