Update – BC Influenza Control Policy

Earlier in the year, health authorities throughout BC (on the advice of Dr. Perry Kendall, BC’s Provincial Health Officer) agreed to ramp up efforts to protect patients and seniors from influenza exposure this flu season (read the full story). Now, after a much heated debate, the government has temporarily backed away from the controversial plan to force thousands of provincial health workers to get a flu shot before they can work with patients. 

Original Influenza Policy:

Effective December 1, 2012, all staff, physicians, students, volunteers, contractors and vendors must either be immunized against the flu or wear a procedure mask while in patient care areas.

BC Influenza Policy

Updated BC Influenza Policy (Dec 5th):

The Ministry of Health decided that during the first year of flu policy implementation the focus will not be on enforcement. Health authorities will not be disciplining employees, but will focus on education and awareness to promote compliance with the new policy.

Unimmunized staff must still wear masks in patient care areas, and immunized staff must display the flu shot sticker on ID badges during flu season.

From our Medical Director Dr. Allan Holmes:

“The following Influenza Control Policy for the Health Authorities remains in effect. The only change is that the enforcement within the Health Authorities will not be a focus in the first year. I remain support of the policy as it is designed to maximize protection for our patients.”

Learn more about influenza:
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/diseases-maladies/flu-grippe-eng.php

Waging War Against Influenza in BC

Before the end of the year, residents of British Columbia can look forward to better protection  measures against the common ailment – influenza.

Influenza in BC

Health authorities throughout BC (on the advice of Dr. Perry Kendall, BC’s Provincial Health Officer) have agreed to ramp up efforts to protect patients and seniors from influenza exposure for the coming flu season.

The implementation plan calls for any health care workers who come into contact with patients at publicly-funded health care facilities to get the influenza vaccine, or wear a mask during the flu season.

“Influenza causes more deaths annually than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined, and hospitalized patients are more vulnerable to complications from influenza than the general population,” said Dr. Kendall.

“This policy will protect patients. Putting in place consistent policies to prevent influenza from spreading is the right thing to do from a patient safety perspective.”

Influenza Measures

Kendall said health authorities in B.C. have been trying to get immunization numbers to go up “for years,” but said despite the encouragement, levels have decreased since 2010.

Even with a recent push towards vaccinations, healthcare workers had a dismal 40% vaccination rate last year.

“This decision has been made by all health authorities, acting upon the advice of the Provincial Health Officer, and ensures we are reducing the risk to our patients to the best of our ability,” said Dr. Nigel Murray, president and CEO, Fraser Health.

The influenza vaccine is extremely safe, and is the most effective way to prevent illness from the influenza virus, helping to prevent infection in healthy adults by up to 80 per cent.

Influenza in BC

  • Influenza causes the most deaths among vaccine-preventable diseases
  • In addition to being a quality and safety issue, improved influenza vaccination coverage helps to reduce rates of employee illness
  • Flu shots are traditionally available around Thanksgiving each year.
  • Flu season typically runs from late November/early December through to the end of March. 
  • Studies have demonstrated that health care workers who are ill with influenza frequently continue to work. 
  • B.C. will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement this province-wide policy. 
  • People who may be at increased risk include: seniors, people with chronic health conditions (especially heart or lung conditions), aboriginal people, or those with compromised immune systems

Every fall, we set up immunizations for the entire staff at Iridia. We recommend immunizations for all low-risk groups, as is it the most effective ways to protect against influenza.

Learn more:
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/diseases-maladies/flu-grippe-eng.php

Polio – The Final One Percent

Eradicating an infectious disease of humans on a worldwide scale is no simple task. In fact, it is so difficult mankind has only achieved it once before – with smallpox.

Currently (with massive effort) we are on track to eradicate a few more diseases, such as polio, the measles and malaria. But even with all the effort we have made towards its eradication, the World Health Assembly voted to renew polio as a global emergency in May. This comes at a time when cases of the deadly virus are at an all-time low.

Eradication of Polio

How can polio be a global emergency when it’s been almost entirely eradicated?

First, there are only three countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria) where polio is endemic (occurring without spreading from somewhere else). But in these countries the reported number of cases has actually gone up.

Second, the polio eradication effort has fallen short near $1-billion in funding due to tough economic times.

This can come as a shock as the efforts to eradicate this terrible disease have made huge leaps forward in recent years with help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has donated $1 billion to polio eradication since 2009.

With the Gates Foundation’s help, there were just 650 cases of polio in 2011, down from 1,352 in 2010, and just this year India was removed from the WHO list of polio-endemic countries.

Growth of Polio

But in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, the number of cases has risen in 2011. In Pakistan, the number of cases increased from 144 to 197; in Afghanistan from 25 to 80; in Nigeria from 21 to 62.

Click to see infographicpolio infographic

Although these infection rates are very low (especially for a disease that used to infect millions), the $9 billion eradication effort will only be successful once new polio cases cease to exist, ending the spread once and for all. This could lead to $50 billion in saved health costs.

Unfortunately, if we cannot continue to fight the disease at the same rapid pace, it’s likely the number of cases will continue to rise, until the disease affects hundreds of thousands of children again. Even one small outbreak can change the course of the eradication effort.

Future of Polio

Why can’t we continue on our current path of mass immunization? The answer is simple; the immunizations efforts so far are just not feasible on a regular basis. And even vaccines are available; it’s not always easy to vaccinate everyone, especially when some even prefer not to be vaccinated for various personal reasons.

polio vaccination

Child Receiving Polio Vaccination

The polio eradication shows us just how difficult it is to rid ourselves of any disease. We are so close, yet we still need to apply pressure. Amazing strides have been made so far in the fight against polio, but there is still much to do.

As experts in pandemic preparedness those of us at Iridia can relate the polio eradication effort to that of the recent H1N1 outbreak and the cropping up of the H5N1 avian flu.

These diseases are similarly difficult to eradicate and will remain with us until every single case has been stamped out. We believe we will get there one day, but until that time all we can do is be prepared.