Healthcare providers battle mounting flu season
Thursday, Dec 5th 2013

The flu season is upon us, as people struggle with early symptoms and healthcare organizations work to provide respite and vaccines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year's flu season is just starting to pick up. A reported 7.6 to 7.9 percent of respiratory specimens collected tested positive for a strain of the flu virus. This is the fourth consecutive week that these figures have risen, showing an increase in the number of individuals being affected by the flu, stated the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

The CDC has seen all three strains of the virus appear during the season thus far, including influenza A subtype H1N1, which captured mass media attention when it burst onto the scene in 2009. 

Although the effects of the virus are being felt by individuals and healthcare providers throughout the country, CIDRAP reported that there have been certain regional hot spots. Six states - Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas and Utah - are reporting area-specific flu activity recently, up from four in late November.

Preventing flu infection
The CDC stated that one of the most important steps in preventing flu infections is getting an annual flu vaccine. This year, an estimated 138-145 million vaccines will be available during the 2013-2014 influenza season.

Experts recommend being vaccinated by a certified medical provider, where doses are handled appropriately and can provide the best protection against infection. Healthcare organizations observe cold chain industry standards for storage and handling of material, including the use of vaccine temperature monitors.

If handled or refrigerated improperly, vaccines can deteriorate and their effects can diminish be significantly lessened.

"Inactivated vaccines can be damaged by exposure to temperature fluctuations (e.g., extreme heat or freezing temperatures)," the CDC stated. "Potency can be adversely affected if vaccines are left out too long or exposed to multiple temperature excursions (out-of-range temperatures) that can have a cumulative negative effect."

The CDC advised that inactive vaccines be stored between 35 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. The best practice is to maintain an average temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Because temperature can have a significant effect on vaccines, healthcare providers and those involved in the supply chain should utilize temperature monitoring systems at all points before the patient receives the inoculation. This will sustain the effectiveness of the shot and help patients avoid influenza infections.

Bloomberg reported a new trend in vaccinations during this year's flu season: Personalized flu shots designed to focus on specific age groups more prone to infection. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved three vaccinations to go on the market this year. The organization hopes this will help boost the number of people who get vaccinated for the flu. Currently less than half of Americans seek out vaccine for influenza, which is the country's eighth largest cause of death.

Gregory Poland, of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, said this represents a great advance in healthcare. 

"For the first time in human history, we can actually target an influenza vaccine to an individual patient," said Poland.