BATON ROUGE– In December, the Department of Health began a campaign to increase the number of hospital workers who received an annual influenza vaccine. The immunization campaign resulted in many hospitals throughout Louisiana making bolder efforts to vaccinate their workers against this serious and potentially fatal illness. The Louisiana Hospital Association assisted LDH in the effort by sending educational materials to infectious control practitioners in member hospitals.

The immunization campaign targeted 126 acute care hospitals in Louisiana. Of the targeted facilities, 97 participated. The campaign’s goal was to have participating hospitals exceed the national average of 23 percent of health care workers who receive the flu shot. Of the participating hospitals, 40 reported they vaccinated more than 50 percent of their direct care staff.

Louisiana hospitals who participated this year did so voluntarily, with LDH asking each facility to define and identify those who they believed to be direct care staff. “This improvement is encouraging, but we still have significant room to improve,” said LDH Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise.

“By next flu season, we will refine our selection criteria and report individual hospital performance,” Cerise added. “We want to give the public a tool they can use to measure this component of hospital quality.” Cerise stressed that an effort of this type is a key component to reducing illness and lowering the rate of hospitalization due to the flu.

“We know that health care workers are at an increased risk for catching the flu and also are more likely to transmit the flu to others,” said Cerise when he introduced the campaign last fall. “Something as simple as all direct care hospital employees getting the flu shot can make a dramatic difference in preventing an influenza outbreak.”

The flu season in Louisiana and throughout the nation is now at its peak. Statistics provided by DHH’s Office of Public Health currently show only moderate flu activity. The Office of Public Health uses a network of doctors, hospitals, schools, day care centers and nursing homes as a flu surveillance system.

“Although we are still in the midst of flu season, we are fortunate for now to have only regional and sporadic cases of the flu reported in Louisiana,” Cerise said.

In addition to the hospital campaign, LDH also vaccinated 100,000 more people this year than in the past. Following Hurricane Katrina, several grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed health care workers to provide flu vaccines to evacuees who were living in temporary shelters.

“In the shelters, our goal was to protect those who are living in very close quarters and those who are at a higher risk for transmitting an illness that could possibly result in an outbreak,” said Dr. Frank Welch, OPH Medical Director for immunizations. “We accomplished that goal, and the added benefit was that we were able to vaccinate more people than ever before.”