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Get your flu shots, health care workers

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Sep. 10, 2009 at 7:12 pm |
September 10, 2009 5:17 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition

Health care providers are urging their patients to get flu shots this fall – against the regular seasonal flu and the new swine flu virus.

Uh . . . physicians, heal thyself.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, fewer than half of health care workers got a flu shot last year. That might fly during a normal flu season, but the 2009-2010 season is shaping up to be anything but normal.

The nation’s health care delivery system may be taxed far more than usual due to the new swine flu virus (H1N1). It will need its providers healthy and on the job, not out sick with the flu or, worse, at work with the flu and spreading it to vulnerable patients.

State health officials should give serious consideration to requiring health workers to be immunized against both types of flu – a step New York has already taken. At this point, it’s still voluntary in Washington state.

The swine flu virus is already here – witness the big outbreak at Washington State University. But it will be five or six weeks before immunizations are available for high-risk populations – pregnant women; young people 6 months to 24 years old; caregivers of infants under 6 months; health and emergency medical workers; and adults 25-64 with pre-existing lung or heart problems, or compromised immune conditions.

In January, the regular seasonal flu strains will start making inroads. The swine and seasonal flus are likely to overlap, giving the population a double whammy of sickness that could be bad news for school districts and businesses.

So far the swine flu has been mild to moderate, but it could mutate into something much more serious. Even the relatively mild version has been linked to 556 deaths nationwide – 14 in Washington, four in Pierce County.

Some of the possible scenarios about this flu season are scary: close to half the population sickened, nearly 2 million hospitalized and 90,000 dead – 2½ times the usual toll of the seasonal flu.

With children, young adults and pregnant women among the most at risk, the health care system will need all of its providers as healthy as possible. They should be lining up now for their seasonal flu shots and planning to get immunized against the swine flu as soon as the shots become available next month.

Did you know?
If you come down with the flu this fall, chances are nearly 100 percent that it’s the swine flu. The seasonal flu usually doesn’t hit the Northwest until January. To learn more and get flu-prevention tips, go online at
www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu.

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