An especially bad flu season that has broken records for hospitalization rates this year is also increasing attention around the dangers of the virus for people living with end stage renal disease (ESRD). People with kidney failure are not only at higher risk for contracting the flu, but also more likely to have complications such as infections, dehydration, pneumonia or sepsis.
“This year’s flu season is especially concerning for our dialysis patients who are at a higher risk for the flu and infections,” said Dr. Frank Maddux, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President of Clinical and Scientific Affairs for Fresenius Medical Care North America. “Our successful effort to increase flu vaccination rates among our patients has never been more important.”
A 2016 study by Fresenius Medical Care researchers found that patients who skipped the flu shot increased their chances of hospitalization by 158 percent. Even this year, when the flu shot has been proven less effective against the worst influenza A strains like H3N2, it still provides a measure of defense.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this year’s flu shot is estimated to have an overall effective rate of only 36 percent. Yet even when the flu vaccine reached an effective rate as low as 20 percent, such as in 2015-2015, the CDC estimates that the vaccinations still prevented up to 144,000 hospitalizations and as many as 4,000 deaths.
At Fresenius Kidney Care, teams worked hard to get the vaccine out to patients earlier than ever before. Kicking off the flu vaccination program sooner increased the number of patients who agreed to be vaccinated, reaching a record high this year of nearly 90 percent. Each week, care teams discuss vaccination rates and monitor the spread of the flu nationwide.
“We always include discussion about flu activity in our weekly emails throughout the country so our managers on the ground can see the severity of it,” said Crystal Grate, a nurse and senior infection prevention manager at Fresenius Kidney Care. “We have worked hard this season to ensure everyone was as informed as possible and aware of the urgency around this year’s flu season.”
In addition, Grate says that patients who show up for dialysis with any flu-like symptoms are provided masks and separated as much as possible from other patients. Dialysis centers make masks available to patients and staff, and reinforce hand washing procedures.
The hard work to increase vaccination rates among patients could have a bigger impact beyond just this one season. A recent study of individuals over age 65, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, showed that repeated vaccination is twice as effective in preventing severe complications from flu.
“These studies provide even more evidence of why getting the flu vaccine every year is so important,” said Kerri Holloway, another nurse who co-leads flu prevention efforts at Fresenius Kidney Care. “The numbers of patients receiving the vaccine at our clinics continues to go up and I’m confident it has made a big impact.”
The CDC reports that this year’s severe flu season may finally have begun to wane after reaching its peak in early February. And by this summer, the process of preparing for next year will begin again.
For frequently asked questions about flu vaccinations for patients with kidney disease, please check out “Fight the Flu” at Fresenius Kidney Care.