A Front-Line View of the Flu

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With flu season right around the corner, it’s time to protect yourself and your family by getting the flu vaccine. Pictured above, Molly Cassady, RN.

Molly Cassady, RN, has seen firsthand what the flu can do, so she gets the flu vaccine every fall.

Cassady is the nurse manager for Kaiser Permanente Roseville’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where she and her staff of nurses care for the sickest patients in the hospital. She said every flu season, 4 or 5 of the ICU’s 20 beds are filled with critically ill patients who have tested positive for the flu.

“The flu cases we’ve seen have been pretty severe,” she said. “When I saw how these patients can decline so rapidly, I started getting the vaccine every year.”

Cassady said many of the flu patients in the ICU are elderly or have chronic conditions, but others are younger and were healthy before they came down with the flu.

Preparing for a Severe Season

There has been an unusually bad flu season in the Southern Hemisphere with a nearly 250 percent increase in flu cases reported to Australia’s flu surveillance system than were reported during the same period last year.

Randy Bergen, MD, Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s clinical lead for the Flu Vaccine Program, said, “That’s a strong indicator that we could also have a more severe flu season here.”

With rare exceptions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine for everyone ages 6 months and older.

Craig Conlon, MD, PhD, medical director for Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Employee Health Services, said that in addition to preventing the flu, the vaccine has other benefits. That’s because flu produces a large amount of inflammation in people’s blood streams and lungs, which can lead to serious health conditions.

“A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for those who get the flu vaccine, there’s a one-third drop in risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and death,” Dr. Conlon explained.

Quyen Nguyen, RN

He added that young and healthy people should get the flu vaccine not only to protect themselves, but also to keep from passing the virus on to someone who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons or people who are particularly vulnerable to the flu.

“The elderly and the very young are particularly at risk, and so are pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease,” he said.

Getting Past a Fear of Needles

Kaiser Permanente Modesto’s Interim ICU Nurse Manager Quyen Nguyen, RN, is afraid of needles, but she’s able to get past that fear and get her flu shot when she thinks about the 2009 H1N1 Flu Pandemic.

During the pandemic, she said she cared for a young person who came into the ICU suffering from septic shock related to the flu.

“His lungs had shut down and we had to put him on a ventilator to breathe,” she said. “I didn’t realize how severe the flu could be until that pandemic hit and I cared for that young patient. He passed away, and it broke my heart.”

Every fall, a co-worker holds Nguyen’s hand as she gets the vaccine.

“I’m still afraid of shots, but I know the vaccine protects me, my patients, and my family,” she said.

For more information on the flu and for help finding a flu vaccine clinic near you, go to Kaiser Permanente’s My Doctor Online Cold and Flu page.

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