Influenza: The Importance of Prevention and Surveillance

February 14, 2017

Authors: Jackie Gatz, Vice President of Grant Management and Safety, and Toi Wilde, HIIN Program Manager

While most influenza prevention and promotion activities occur during the fall when the flu vaccine is distributed, flu activity routinely peaks through the holidays and into the New Year. The 2016-2017 flu season is no different. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ surveillance data indicates that 78 percent of the 15,378 laboratory positive influenza cases were diagnosed from Jan. 1 to Jan. 28, 2017. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that Missouri is one of seven states with the highest influenza activity this year.

In Missouri, flu activity was classified as widespread during this time. The CDC defines widespread activity as “outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illness cases and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half the regions of the state with recent laboratory evidence of influenza in the state.” Continued surveillance will indicate the severity of this year’s flu season and the efficacy of the flu vaccination.

Syndromic surveillance is the use of nontraditional data sources to detect public health events earlier than other methods, such as laboratory-confirmed or physician diagnoses. Missouri uses the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Communicate-based Epidemics (ESSENCE); a software system that transmits emergency department data related to chief complaints of patient visits. It is used for routine alert investigations, situational awareness, enhanced surveillance and outbreak case findings. Reports are generated weekly to inform state public health officials, health care providers and national trends.

Prevention Through Vaccination
Novel influenza strains pose significant threats to the health care delivery system. In addition to promotion of influenza vaccination to the public, health care organizations routinely evaluate risks within the environment of care to mitigate their impacts on the workforce and patients. Prevention activities for patients and health care workers include proper hand hygiene, using proper personal protective equipment, social distancing when symptomatic and vaccinations. These activities are recommended to reduce the spread of influenza.

To increase health care worker compliance with vaccinations, many providers have implemented policies outlining requirements for employment. Sponsoring, administering and making readily accessible flu vaccinations annually to all workers is key to worker compliance and risk reduction. In Missouri, 98 percent of hospitals have a vaccination policy that covers all hospital personnel, while 91.3 percent of all health care personnel received the vaccination for 2015-2016 flu season. MHA’s March edition of Trajectories will take a closer look at Missouri’s clinical quality improvement efforts related to hospital-acquired infections.