The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) strongly recommends all health care personnel, even those not directly involved in patient care, get a yearly flu vaccine. Yearly flu vaccination of health care personnel is a critical step in reducing risk to patients who are most vulnerable to flu-related illness. These recommendations apply to all health care personnel, including those in acute care hospitals, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, physician’s offices, urgent care centers, and outpatient clinics, as well as those who provide home health care and emergency medical services.

Flu vaccination for health care personnel not only protects patients from exposure to the flu, but also decreases employee absenteeism and costs associated with personnel who are sick. Although any health care workers with flu-like symptoms should be encouraged to remain at home, staying at home when you are sick is not enough to effectively protect patients and coworkers. Those infected with the flu virus may be able to spread the virus to others a couple of days before developing symptoms of flu. In addition, up to half of those infected with flu may not have any symptoms at all. The flu virus is spread through coughing or sneezing, and by touching virus-laden surfaces (such as a door knob) and then touching the nose or mouth. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

"Health care personnel are responsible for the well-being and safety of their patients," Gary Wheeler, M.D., Branch Chief of Infectious Disease at ADH said. "We want to ensure health care personnel do everything they can to protect their patients from the flu."

In the U.S. flu activity typically reaches its peak in January and lasts through early March. Arkansas’s flu activity is increasing, but it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine. The vaccine takes about two weeks to provide full protection.

Over the last 50 years, flu vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective. Approximately 100 million doses of flu vaccine are used in the United States each year. These flu vaccines have an excellent safety record. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, but may cause mild flu-like symptoms that begin soon after the shot and usually last one to two days.

The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to work. If you become sick with the flu shortly after receiving the vaccine, you were already infected with the virus. If you are exposed to the flu virus shortly after your vaccination, the vaccine can still reduce the symptoms of flu. There are very few medical reasons to not get the flu vaccine. These include life-threatening reactions such as allergic reactions to a previous dose of flu vaccine or Guillain-Barré syndrome. There is now an egg-free vaccine that can be safely administered to those with a serious egg allergy.

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