Overton Brooks VA Medical Center
Overton Brooks VA vigilant during flu season
Flu season is here and Overton Brooks VA Medical Center is rolling out the red carpet with vaccines for patients and staff, according to Vickie Moore, Infection Control Coordinator, Overton Brooks VA.
“Influenza (flu) deaths occur every year,” Moore says. “We don’t live in a bubble. We interact with other people, especially those with compromised immune systems.”
Moore, the Infection Control Coordinator for Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, adds that some Veterans treated at the VA may fall into this “compromised” category, with many suffering from diabetes, cancer and various respiratory diseases to name a few.
“Young children and seniors may have compromised immune systems because of their age. It would be easier for someone to give the flu to a grandchild and vice versa, it’s a two way street.”
For this reason, Moore and other staff members, work to educate staff and patients as to why the flu vaccine is important. Despite this effort, many Americans refuse the vaccination for a number of that reasons. In response, Moore likens the flu vaccine to emergency preparedness.
“If you know you’re heading into hurricane season, you stack up on resources. The influenza vaccine allows your body to stack the necessary antibodies needed to fight influenza,” she added.
“We want a vaccine that we can use across the board,” Moore said. “With the influenza shot someone can gain a resistance to influenza without actually getting the disease.”
According to the CDC website, the flu virus is constantly changing. This is why new vaccines are distributed annually, with one vaccine protecting against more than one strain. To prepare for flu season, most Americans have access to two modes of flu vaccinations— the old-fashion shot, otherwise known as the “dead virus,” and the flu mist, or “live vaccine.” The VA only uses the shot. Unlike the “live virus” the dead virus does not have the ability to replicate and can be given to almost anyone.
“Offering only the dead virus was a decision made by VA Central Office,” Moore said. “This is a vaccine that we can use across the board. With the shot someone can gain a resistance to influenza without actually getting the disease. It’s like emergency preparedness during hurricane season. If you know it’s that time of the year for hurricanes, you stack up resources. The flu shot allows your body to stack the necessary antibodies needed to fight influenza. This vaccine tricks the body into thinking that it had the virus and has gotten over it so you can build up a resistance without having a reaction to the virus.”
What to expect from the shot— soreness at the site and low grade fever, according to Moore.
“We also had out an instruction sheet provided by the CDC to inform the patient about the vaccine and what to expect from the vaccine after they receive it,” Moore said.
Although the vaccine is the main line of defense against influenza, Moore says that three fronts are needed to successfully hold the virus at bay.
“We fight influenza on three fronts— the patients, the staff and through education,” Moore said. “In other words, we want the staff to take the steps needed to prevent contracting influenza. We need them healthy so they can take care of patients. We need the patients to take the steps needed to stay healthy and we need to educate everyone on what they need to survive the flu season,” Moore said.
Education not only involves posting and disseminating information throughout the hospital, but changing the way people think about the virus.
“The flu can only spread through contact and through droplet,” Moore said. “That’s why it’s important not to cough into your hand, but to cough into your sleeve. It doesn’t sound like much, but it really calls for a culture change. I still remember my mother telling me to cough or sneeze into my hands. If I cover my mouth with my hands, I may touch a surface and other people may touch that surface as well.”
For most medical center Veterans, this means receiving the flu vaccine from the medical center’s Blue Team, located on the first floor of the hospital. Various services and departments within the medical center have a designated “flu champion” that can arrange for employees to receive the vaccine. Even with the vaccine, Moore reminds everyone to remain cautious regarding the flu.
“Every year we try to identify what type of flu strains we can see,” Moore said. “In the Southern Hemisphere, like Australia and South America, they have different seasons then we do so we usually receive the same influenza strains they do when our season hits. The CDC tracks this every year; however, we don’t always get it right. We may have an influenza strain that is not included in the trivalent vaccine.”
As stated before, Veterans may receive the flu vaccine from the Blue Team, located on the first floor of the medical center, near the Emergency Department entrance. The medical center will also offer a “drive through” vaccine at the front circle of the hospital, which was previously closed due to construction. They will over the drive through vaccine Saturday, Oct. 11 and Saturday, Oct. 25 8 a.m. to noon on both days.