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Hospital Tries New Approach to Prevent Flu Transmission

November 19, 2007

 In an effort to protect patients, one hospital is trying to prevent the spread of influenza by offering free flu shots to a patient’s family members and household contacts.

In an effort to protect patients, one hospital is trying to prevent the spread of influenza by offering free flu shots to a patient’s family members and household contacts. Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle began the program on Oct. 16 and have immunized 80-100 household contacts every day since inception.

“We’ve been offering flu shots to our patients, including outpatients, and staff for years, but this new approach will help broaden the circle of protection around our patients,” said Danielle Zerr, MD, MPH, medical director of infection control at Children’s and associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “Many of our patients have very fragile immune systems. We’re expanding our program beyond patients and staff to ensure we’re doing everything we can to reduce the risk of exposing our immunocompromised patients to the flu and its complications.”

Family members and household contacts can receive immunizations on the patient’s clinic day or come in to the hospital’s flu vaccine room at a more convenient time.

“The response from our patients’ families and household contacts has far exceeded our hopes and expectations,” said Sallie Kirsch, PhD, RN, director of ambulatory quality and clinical practice at Children’s. “Families have been grateful for the convenience and the reminder to protect their children as well as themselves.”

The hospital has mandated that anyone who works or volunteers at the hospital get a complimentary flu vaccine and those who opt out must sign a declination form.

Stealthy surveillance leads to better hand hygiene

Increasing hand washing or the use of hand sanitizing gel among staff is another safety measure undertaken by the hospital to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as MRSA and the flu. Hand hygiene is a challenge at all medical facilities - some have even tried forcing staff and doctors to wash hands or risk termination.

“We realized it was difficult for staff to get to gel or hand washing stations, so now we make it easy for them,” said Zerr. “We provide gel dispensers on the outside and inside of all patient rooms, we ensure the dispensers are never empty, we communicate with staff and doctors regularly about the importance of good hand hygiene, we urge patients and their families to ask their providers if they have washed their hands and we observe how well health-care workers are cleaning their hands prior to entering a patient’s room and feed that data back to providers.”

Many studies have shown that hospitals increase hand hygiene compliance to 40-63 percent by using hand sanitizer. Doctors at Children’s say their methods have helped increase usage to 88 percent.

“We know these measures are working because we have been anonymously observing and recording staff members’ hand hygiene habits in all units of the hospital for the past six years,” said Zerr. “Each year, we have seen a steady increase and now our staff use appropriate hand hygiene 88% of the time - that’s nearly double the rates at other hospitals across the nation. We still have a lot of work to do but the results are very promising.”

This anonymous observation ensures an accurate count of appropriate hand hygiene and staff members never know who the observers are or when they will be observing. In 2001, the hospital’s hand hygiene compliance rate was 61.5%.

Influenza is a highly contagious illness causing an average of 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations per year in the United States; pneumonia is the most common complication in high-risk groups. Unlike the common cold, influenza has a swift onset of severe symptoms beginning with two to seven days of fever, headache, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, runny nose and sore throat, and a cough that is often severe and may last seven days or more. The flu season is from November to April, with most cases occurring between late December and early March.

For more information about influenza and immunization recommendations please visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.

About Seattle Children's Hospital

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Children’s has been delivering superior patient care and advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org.

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