​​​Image of UHN staff members
Stay tuned on UHN.ca to find out what brought these UHN staff members together to promote the flu shot campaign. It’s a fresh new take that you won’t want to miss out on! (Photo: UHN News)

It’s that time of year again! UHN’s flu campaign starts on Oct. 20, 2014 and runs until Nov. 29, 2014.

This year UHN is taking a new approach. Stay tuned next week for details about this fresh new twist to the campaign!

In the meantime, be sure to read the FAQ on influenza and the vaccine that can protect you, your coworkers, your family and our patients from this infectious disease.

What is influenza?
​Influenza is a serious contagious viral respiratory infection. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Typically, influenza starts with a headache, chills and cough. This is followed by fever, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, throat irritation and in children, sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover from influenza within a week to ten days. The influenza season usually lasts from October to April, but the exact time can change every year.

Is it serious?
​Influenza is one of the top 10 infectious diseases in Ontario. While most healthy adults feel miserable for a few days, for some people, influenza can be serious or life-threatening. Those most at risk include:

  • adults age 65 and over,
  • residents of long-term care facilities,
  • pregnant women,
  • children under the age of five,
  • people who are obese
  • people who are immune-compromised, and,
  • people with chronic medical conditions, including asthma, heart disease, and diabetes, among others.

Each year in Ontario, influenza and its complications are estimated to cause up to 1,000 hospitalizations and 1,600 deaths.  Complications include pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections.  Influenza infection can also make chronic conditions, such as asthma, worse.

How is it spread?
​The influenza virus is spread by droplets that are made when infected people, cough or sneeze. You can either catch the virus directly from an infected person or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.  You can spread the influenza virus a day before you develop symptoms, and for five to seven days after you develop symptoms.

How do I avoid getting influenza?
​Get vaccinated.

In addition to getting the annual influenza vaccination there are several other important infection control measure that can help you avoid getting influenza.

  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently.  
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve, NOT your hands.
  • If you can, avoid close contact with individuals who have symptoms that are suggestive of influenza. If you can’t avoid close contact with individuals who have symptoms of influenza, wear the appropriate PPE when caring for them.

If you become sick with flu-like symptoms, please do not come to work. See the UHN OH&S Policy #6.20.011 Respiratory Viruses and Policy #6.20.003 Influenza Vaccination for more information.

Limiting the spread of influenza is everyone’s responsibility.

Do I have to get vaccinated?
We strongly encourage you to get the influenza vaccine but at this time the influenza vaccination is not mandatory for healthcare workers. It’s not that we think influenza vaccination isn’t important, we think it’s incredibly important and would like to see all of our staff lining up at the flu carts this year. There is however one exception to this. If you are working on a unit where an influenza outbreak has been declared, it is required that you be vaccinated and/or take prophylactic medication until the outbreak is over. Employees who are not vaccinated and refuse the prophylactic medication may be placed on an unpaid leave of absence (LOA) until the outbreak is over. If an employee is placed on an unpaid LOA they may use banked lieu time or vacation credits. If an employee is not able to receive the vaccine for medical reasons and a medical certificate is provided, the employee will be reassigned where possible during the outbreak. This is recognized in the ONA collective agreement. See the UHN OH&S Policy #6.20.011 Respiratory Viruses, Policy #6.20.003 Influenza Vaccination and Policy # 6.20.010 Influenza Outbreak for more information.

I got vaccinated last year. Why do I need to get it again?
Each year different influenza viruses circulate. Even if there is no significant change in the virus, your body’s immunity level declines over several months.  Also, immunity from the influenza vaccine decreases over time. It’s best to get the vaccine every year to keep yourself healthy.

How effective is the influenza vaccine?
The effectiveness of the seasonal influenza vaccine varies from year to year. Some years the vaccine is more effective than others because it’s a better match to what’s circulating in the community. Recent studies suggest that the influenza vaccine is, on average, 60% effective in preventing infection in healthy adults.  Evidence also shows that even if a person gets influenza after being vaccinated their illness will be less severe. Although the vaccine is not perfect, getting immunized is one of the best ways available to prevent infection.

Can you get influenza from the vaccine?
No, you can’t get influenza from the vaccine because the viruses contained in the vaccine are inactivated (killed) and cannot cause influenza.  When you get the influenza vaccine, there are many other viruses circulating, causing colds that can be mistaken for influenza.  Also, if you have been exposed to influenza right before vaccination (i.e., before your body has built immunity to the virus from vaccination), you may get sick from that infection and mistakenly attribute it to the vaccine.

What is UHN’s approach to Influenza Season this year?
​As many of you know a number of our peer hospitals are planning on rolling out a policy of mandatory vaccination or masking throughout the flu season. UHN does not support this approach and will not be implement this policy. We will however be running a more enthusiastic Flu vaccination campaign with more opportunity for you to get the vaccination, greater visibility and  some interesting prizes this year. 

We recognize there are limitations to how much we can achieve with this approach because our influenza vaccination rate last year was only about 30%, but we hope that with an honest approach to vaccination and information as well as an improved process we can boost our vaccination rates to the 70% range.  Failure to achieve this rate may put us in a difficult position next year when deciding on how to approach the season.

What do I do if I work at a hospital that is implementing the TAHSN policy?
If you work at other hospitals you need to find out what their policy is this year and follow that while you work there.

I’m allergic to eggs. Can I get the vaccine?
Yes, most people with an egg allergy can get the influenza vaccine. If you are able to eat baked goods with eggs then you are able to get the vaccine. If you have a severe egg allergy (anaphylaxis) you need to speak to your doctor. You may be able to get the vaccine in a medical clinic or in your allergist’s office.

I’m pregnant. Can I still take the vaccine?
In most cases not only is it safe, it is recommended that pregnant women get vaccinated. Some studies suggest that pregnant women are at greater risk of developing complications from influenza. Pregnant women who get vaccinated also pass on their immunity to their baby, protecting them from influenza for the first six months of their life.

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) and how do you get it?
GBS is a rare neurological disorder. Many years ago there was a batch of influenza vaccine that scientists thought was associated with an increased risk of GBS. Since then, there has been no evidence to suggest the influenza vaccine leads to GBS. In fact, recent research suggests you actually have a higher risk of developing GBS from getting influenza than from getting the vaccine.

What is UHN doing about visitors who are sick when they come here?
We are tightening up our visitor policy to reflect the same expectations of visitors.

Is there anything else new that we should be aware of this year?
​We are implementing a new policy entitled “Respiratory virus policy”, which stipulates that if you are sick with respiratory virus symptoms, you should not come to work. If it is absolutely necessary that you attend work while sick, you must wear a procedure mask when participating in clinical activities.  We are also updating our Influenza vaccination policy number 6.20.003 and creating a separate policy on Influenza Outbreak Management. All of these policies will be posted on the Occupational Health & Safety Corporate page of the UHN intranet.

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