The days are getting cooler, and the 2017-2018 flu season is just getting started. Unfortunately, the upcoming holiday season occurs simultaneously with influenza season. The flu season usually means an influx of patients in doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and hospitals. It’s important for nurses to stay up-to-date on the flu’s prevention, etiology, and treatment for this season. Brushing up on your influenza knowledge for this flu season won’t only help your patients and communities, it will also help you take better care of your own health.
What Flu Virus Strains are Anticipated for the 2017-2018 Flu Season?
Proper preparation for this flu season involves nurses knowing what flu virus strains are anticipated by public health organizations. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization recommended that patients in the northern hemisphere be immunized against three specific flu strains. These include:
- A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
- A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
- B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus
Quadrivalent flu vaccines have been recommended by the World Health Organization, targeting the three previously mentioned strains, as well as the B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus. 15 different flu vaccine formats from last season will be available for patients this year. Meanwhile, some of the new flu vaccines that will be available for this flu season include:
- Afluria quadrivalent 5.0 ml multi-dose vial – recommended for patients 18 and older
- Afluria quadrivalent 0.5 ml prefilled syringe – recommended for patients 18 and older
- FluLaval quadrivalent 5.0 ml multi-dose vial – recommended for infants six months and older
- Flublok quadrivalent .05 ml prefilled syringe – recommended for patients 18 and older
- Flucelvax quadrivalent 5.0 ml multi-dose vial – recommended for patients 4 and older
What’s New in Flu Vaccinations This Season?
For the 2017-2018 flu season, there are some new recommendations from the CDC that nurses need to keep in mind:
- This year’s flu vaccines have received updates to make them more effective on current circulating viruses. For example, the influenza A(H1N1) component received an update.
- Nasal spray flu vaccines are no longer recommended. For this season, only injectable flu shots should be used.
- Age recommendations for receiving the “Flulaval Quadrivalent” have changed. Instead of three years old and older, it can now be given to infants 6 months old and older.
- The trivalent formulation of the vaccine Afluria is now recommended for patients who are five and older, while previously it had been recommended for patients nine and older.
- Any recommended, age-appropriate, licensed flu vaccine can now be given to pregnant women.
- New quadrivalent flu vaccines that have been licensed this year include Flublok Quadrivalent RIV and Afluria Quadrivalent IIV.
Lessons Healthcare Professionals Learned Last Flu Season
Looking back at the previous flu season can offer nurses and other healthcare professionals some clues on how to improve this season. Some of the insights and lessons from the 2016-2017 include:
- The CDC reported that last season’s flu vaccine was 47% effective. However, for patients age 50-64, it was 58% effective, while it was least effective for patients between 18 and 49 years of age.
- Approximately 68.5% of health care personnel got their flu shots by November 2016.
- The 2016-2017 season saw an increase in flu related deaths in some areas of the country, particularly in places like San Diego, New York City, and Tulsa.
- Pediatric patients are especially susceptible to influenza related deaths. If treated early, the treatment can reduce mortality in this group of patients.
Some patients have a higher risk of developing complications due to severe influenza. While it’s recommended that all patients over 6 months old are vaccinated, prompt vaccination is especially important for patients who have a higher risk of complications. If vaccine supplies become limited, these patients should receive vaccinations first. High risk patients include:
- Patients who are immunocompromised by HIV infection or immunosuppressant medications
- Children between 6 months and 59 months old
- Children and adults with cardiovascular, chronic pulmonary, metabolic, hepatic, hematologic, neurologic, and renal disorders
- Patients age 50 and older
- Pregnant women
- Nursing home residents and residents of any other type of long-term care facility
- Patients who have a BMI of 40 or higher
A Refresher on Flu Prevention
The single best way to prevent the influenza virus is to get the flu vaccine. However, there are other steps that can be taken by nurses. These are also steps that should be taught to patients to prevent spreading germs and getting sick. The CDC recommends that medical professionals and patients both practice good hand hygiene to prevent the spreading of germs. Anyone who has the flu should stay at home while they are sick and for 24 hours after their symptoms have stopped. While many nurses feel like they need to come to work even though they are sick, it is important for them to stay home. Staying home is much safer for patients and will help prevent spreading of the virus.
While it’s still very early in the 2017-2018 flu season, it’s important for healthcare providers and patients to receive the flu vaccine immediately if they haven’t received one already. Nurses should take time to talk to patients about flu vaccines. They should also share the potential complications and risks that come with not receiving a flu vaccine. Nurses should also educate patients on how they can monitor themselves and family members for symptoms of the flu. Patients should also be instructed on when it’s time to get medical help.
Properly educating the general public can help decrease the spread of the flu and reduce the instances of flu-related complications and deaths. It’s especially important for nurses to have in-depth discussions about the flu virus with parents of babies, pregnant women, elderly patients, and patients who have multiple comorbidities, since these are high-risk populations.
Every flu season comes with unique challenges. Nurses are in a unique position to educate patients on the importance of vaccinations and other steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of the flu. Taking personal precautions and staying up-to-date on this season’s flu strains and vaccine recommendations allow nurses to take essential steps to help decrease the number of influenza-related illnesses and deaths within their own community.