No career exposes you to a greater risk of contracting and spreading certain contagious diseases and illnesses than healthcare. Working with those individuals who are sick is the central part of the healthcare employees’ job. In healthcare facilities across the country, contagious organisms can spread like wildfire and there is only so much protection a couple pumps of hand sanitizer can provide.
The key to staying healthy and out of the chain of contagious viruses is to get immunized. This not only gives you a leg-up on stopping the spread of certain diseases and viral infections, but it’s mandatory for those who work in the healthcare field.
There are 2 primary reasons why healthcare workers need to stay on top of their immunizations. Working in a hospital, nursing home, or any type of medical facility exposes you to a lot of germs. People are filing in and out, patients and their families and friends, your coworkers, and anyone in the general public can introduce you to any number of illnesses, and because of the nature of your job, you can’t always avoid being exposed.
The second, and fairly obvious, reason those in the healthcare field need to stay on top of their immunizations is directly related to patient care. The elderly, those recovering from surgery, infants, and anyone who is ill already have compromised immune systems. They simply don’t have what they need to fight off secondary infections. These infections, from the flu, to chicken pox, and many others which are relatively benign in healthy individuals, can prove deadly to those with weakened immunities.
That’s why the CDC recommends six specific immunizations for those in healthcare. In addition to screening for tuberculosis, and physical assessments to ensure you can perform the duties your job entails, these six immunizations will cut your risk, should you be exposed, and also prevent you from infecting your patients.
Immunizations and Guidelines
Staying on track with your immunizations isn’t just sound practice, but it’s the best course of protection for you and those with whom you interact each day. Cut your risk of contracting these common illnesses by keeping up with your immunizations. Halt the spread of contagious and debilitating illness and virus among your immune-compromised patients by scheduling these six immunizations.
Hepatitis B-If you have never been vaccinated against Hep B, you will need to obtain 3 doses to protect against this blood and body fluid borne disease. The vaccination became available in 1981, but was not among the recommended vaccines until 1992. If you work specifically with blood and bodily fluids you will need HBs serologic testing after your third, and final dose.
Influenza-The flu vaccine is given annually to protect against the anticipated strain of influenza in the coming season.
MMR– The vaccination protecting you against measles, mumps, and rubella is given in 2 doses, 28 days apart. If you were born after 1957, you will need serologic evidence of immunity, or proof of vaccination. Fo those healthcare workers born prior to 1957, it is recommended that you be vaccinated if you have no evidence, laboratory or otherwise, of having had these diseases.
Varicella-Healthcare workers who have no proof, through a healthcare provider, of either having had chicken pox, or herpes zoster, and those who have no serologic proof of immunity, are required to obtain a Varicella vaccine. It is given in 2 doses, 4 weeks apart.
Tdap-Those healthcare employees who have never been vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and those who are unsure of the date of their last vaccine, should be vaccinated as soon as possible. For pregnant healthcare workers, vaccination is recommended after each pregnancy. All other healthcare personnel should be revaccinated every ten years.
Meningococcal-One dose is required for healthcare employees to be protected against the meningococcal virus (meningitis). For individuals who work directly with isolates of N. meningitides, both the MenACWY and MenB vaccines are required. They can be given at the same time, but different sites on the body.
Protecting those who care for the sick is the most responsible action we can take as a society. Make sure you check with your employer to find out if there are any additional requirements for vaccinations or assessments. Also, keep your records up to date and accessible so there is never a question about your vaccinations.
Photo credit: West Point – The U.S. Military Academy via VisualHunt / CC BY