Kristen Nichols HeitmanKristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, is an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases at the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.

While the 2017–2018 flu season is finally winding down, there are still states where flu is widespread and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects new flu cases to continue over the upcoming weeks. It is common to see a second wave of flu in late winter or early spring in the U.S. Some are calling this year’s flu season the worst in a decade and CDC reports the hospitalization rate has been record-breaking. Several different strains of the flu are circulating at any given time. This year, H1N1, H3N2 and two strains of influenza B have been common. Previously, flu vaccines protected against three strains of influenza. This year a new flu vaccine, a quadrivalent influenza vaccine, included protection for four strains. While we don’t fully know the effectiveness of this flu season’s vaccine, previous studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of illness by 40% – 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.

Even if the vaccine doesn’t provide protection against infection from some strains of the flu, it can prevent severe illness and death. These are reasons it’s important to get your flu shot and to get prompt treatment with influenza antiviral medication if you are sick.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months or older get the flu vaccine every year, by the end of October, if possible. However, getting vaccinated later is okay, and vaccination should continue throughout the flu season, even into January and later. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. The flu costs the United States more than $87 billion annually and is responsible for the loss of close to 17 million workdays each flu season. Tens of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands die from flu-related illnesses each year in the United States.

Employers can play a key role in protecting employees’ health and safety while increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism, lowering healthcare costs and limiting other negative impacts of the flu. The best strategy for preventing flu is to make it convenient for employees to get vaccinated. Employers can host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace or enable employees to receive a flu vaccine at a convenient pharmacy location.

BioIQ offers everything employers need to implement a comprehensive immunization program, including the tools and technology to facilitate communications with participants and enable seamless, convenient appointment scheduling. To learn how BioIQ can help your organization plan for flu season, call (888) 818-1594 or email sales@bioiq.com.

The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the author’s affiliated institutions.

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