|County health department strengthens requirements for health care workers
The Sonoma County Department of Health Services this week issued a Public Health Order from its health officer, Lynn Silver-Chalfin, strengthening the requirements for influenza vaccination for healthcare workers in high-risk settings.
Workers with patient contact in these settings must now receive influenza vaccination each fall. If they decline, they must wear a surgical mask during flu season to prevent transmission of flu to patients.
The order is similar to measures taken in San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties in recent years. It aims to reduce the occurrence of preventable flu deaths in hospitalized or long-term care patients.
Every year in Sonoma County and across the nation, patients die from outbreaks of flu while in care.
Influenza strikes 5-15 percent of the U.S. population every year, leading to an estimated 3.1 million days of hospitalization and 31.4 million outpatient visits.
Health care workers are both at risk for influenza and can transmit the virus to their patients and co-workers.
Patients in health care facilities are particularly vulnerable to influenza. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions are at greater risk for influenza related hospitalization and death.
Influenza season is beginning. Shirlee Zane, Chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, states, “Through this important measure, the county is working with our health care partners and dedicated health care workers to protect our elderly and infirm patients from getting influenza while hospitalized or in long term care. We all share the common goals to minimize the spread of communicable diseases like influenza, to provide outstanding health care for our citizens, and to keep our health care workers healthy.”
The measure affects acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), residential care for the elderly (RCFEs), residential developmental centers, and dialysis centers. While vaccination is strongly recommended for other health care workers in the order, the masking requirement does not apply to workers in clinic and other outpatient settings.
The order becomes effective Dec. 15 and ends on March 31. In subsequent years, the order will be in effect for the entire flu season, which runs from Nov 1 through March 31.
Vaccination of health care workers prevents illness and mortality in workers and in their patients, reduces infection and absenteeism, and results in financial savings to families and to the health care system.
The best way to prevent transmission of a disease like influenza to those persons we serve in our health care facilities is to mandate vaccination of health care workers. However, vaccination rates of health care workers in Sonoma County are not high enough.
In Sonoma County, hospital rates of influenza vaccination of employees in the 2011-12 flu season ranged from 64-87 percent.
For non-employees, except those engaged in patient care, in some Sonoma County hospitals rates are as low as 23 percent.
Hospitals are required to offer flu vaccine to their employees. In addition, there are now two rules in California requiring flu vaccine for health care workers (CA Health & Safety Code 1288.7 effective Jan. 1, 2007 affecting acute care hospital staff and 5199 Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard of Cal OSHA, effective Sept. 1, 2010, affecting a broader range of healthcare workers). Similar masking requirements have already been implemented by Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Petaluma Valley Hospital.
For further information call 565-4582, 565-4566 or go to www.cdc.gov/flu/.