Is the staff in your NICU vaccinated against the flu?

Even though vaccination is the #1 way to prevent transmission of the flu, the rate of vaccination among health care workers is low.

By January 2010, according to the CDC, 62% of all health care workers had received the seasonal flu shot and 37.1% received the H1N1 vaccine. Only 34.7% received both seasonal and H1N1 shots (this data should be different for this season as both are combined in one shot).

So what about the NICU? The baseline rate of vaccination against seasonal influenza among NICU staff ranges from 15% to 41%. When the vaccine is made available to staff in the unit (i.e. having a nurse on site to give the shot), vaccination rates rise to 67%.

What’s worse is that influenza outbreaks are well-described in the NICU. An unvaccinated health care worker can help the infection spread like wildfire.

If your baby is in the hospital now, or next time you have to take them to clinic, ask every person you come in contact with if they are vaccinated against the flu. If they are not, ask them to wear a mask. In San Francisco, a new law has taken effect mandating unvaccinated hospital personnel wear a mask if they decline the flu shot.

It is hard to know how someone could dedicate themselves to helping preemies through their most critical period and at the same time knowingly be a vector for a potentially deadly infection.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Flu season has started slowly in the US, but the H1N1 epidemic in the United Kingdom has already proven very deadly. And while were are on the subject of the flu, make sure you get vaccinated as well.

The graph shows the steadily rising # of flu-associated hospitalizations and deaths for this season.

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