Flu Shots Keep Health Workers On The Job

Flu shots, generally accepted as necessary for the elderly and for other adults and children at high-risk for complications, may also have tremendous benefits for health care workers. A new study has shown that doctors and nurses lose fewer days from work because of the flu when they are vaccinated annually. The study authors also postulated that health workers likely spread less disease when they get influenza vaccine and stay healthy.

In a randomized, double-blind, controlled study to determine the effects of the flu vaccine on health care workers' illness and work absence--the first to be carried out over three successive epidemic seasons--researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and School of Medicine cleared up contradictory findings about whether flu shots really made a difference in keeping health care workers on the job. Their study appears in the March 10, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Senior author Mark C. Steinhoff, MD, professor, International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said, "Although the flu vaccine has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing sickness and death in young adults and the elderly, there have been contradictory findings as to whether the vaccine decreases the rate of influenza or sick leave among health care professionals."

Although the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended since 1981 that health care professionals get the flu vaccine, rates of influenza vaccination among health care professionals are consistently low, between 16 percent and 51 percent. Some critics of annual flu shots cite "vaccine carryover"--when a previous year's vaccination decreases the protection gotten from the vaccine in subsequent years--but the authors found no evidence of carryover and recommended that hospitals institute annual influenza vaccinations for health care professionals.

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Contact: Kathy Moore
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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