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Letters - Get your flu shot

It's that time of year again, yes flu season is here. Every year the flu leads to some 200,000 hospitalizations and even 36,000 deaths. The populations most at risk are the young children ages six months to five years, adults over age 50, and anyone with a chronic condition but everyone can do something to reduce the rates of influenza this year. Public health officials urge everyone six months of age and older to get vaccinated against the flu virus.

The flu vaccine is 70-90 percent effective and has prevented almost five million cases, two million medical visits and an estimated 40,000 hospitalizations in 2010-11. It is impossible for the flu shot to cause the flu because the flu vaccine is given as a "dead" vaccine. This term means that the mechanism necessary for the vaccine to reproduce in the human body has been disabled so the virus has no way of surviving or spreading to cause the flu. The nasal spray vaccine is a "live" vaccine but it is weakened so it will be destroyed by the high temperatures of the respiratory system. Even the healthiest individuals can get the flu so everyone is at risk.

Those who don't show symptoms of influenza are still at risk for spreading the virus to others who are vulnerable. Any one who has contact with a person who is at high risk for influenza and its complications should get the vaccine. Even if the high risk individual has gotten the vaccine, their lowered immune system may not have built up the protection necessary to fight off the disease so they can still be infected by a carrier of the flu virus.

This places especially high responsibility for healthcare workers to receive the vaccine. Anyone working in healthcare; hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted livings, home health; can easily come in contact with people who are susceptible to the flu virus and it's complications, including death.

The CDC has set a national goal of 90 percent vaccination rate for healthcare professionals because this is such an important issue. Only 67 percent of healthcare workers made it their duty last year to protect their patients, clients, and residents from the flu by getting vaccinated.

The good news is the number of physicians getting the flu vaccine is up to 89 percent and that for nurses is up to 80 percent. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement to get up to the CDC's goal of 90 percent. In fact, one survey showed that aside from doctors and nurses, merely half of workers in long term care facilities receive the vaccine, leaving so many vulnerable adults unnecessarily exposed to the virus. Healthcare facilities need to promote the influenza vaccine to their employees with the utmost of importance. The CDC survey showed that in such institutions where the flu vaccine was promoted it was received by 75 percent of employees, and hospitals, which made the flu vaccine mandatory for their staff, saw 95 percent participation.

Infringing on people's rights? Yes, not getting the flu vaccine in a healthcare setting is infringing on the resident's or patient's right to live in a healthy environment that does not put their safety at risk.

Is it effective? Yes, requiring all health care professionals to get vaccinated with few exceptions is a very effective way to reduce the spread of influenza in a health care setting.

Due to the vast variety of existing flu viruses there's probably no end to the illness in sight, but everyone can do their part to reduce and prevent the spread of influenza in the home, at work, at school, and in the doctor's office. For those who do, a big thank you! -- Katie Erb, Detroit Lakes