MAYWOOD, Ill. – As the nation braces for what could be a severe flu season, Loyola University Health System (LUHS) will conduct a 36-hour drill to test how it could respond to a pandemic by inoculating its staff against the regular seasonal flu.
The drill begins at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 16 and will continue until 6:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17. The drill will take place at the system’s 61-acre campus in Maywood and at its 28 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. Media are welcome to attend.
The drill also will allow the system to vaccinate a significant portion of its 7,825 employees as part of its mandatory policy designed to improve the safety of patients, visitors, staff and their families. Loyola was among the first medical centers in the country to make regular seasonal flu shots mandatory.
“We know that the seasonal flu shot is safe and effective. It reduces infections and absenteeism among employees, prevents transmission to patients and reduces patient hospitalization and mortality,” said Dr. Jorge Parada, medical director of infection control, LUHS. “We are committed to taking the right steps to minimize risk to our patients and our employees.”
Employees will be notified of the drill when the words “Code Triage, Internal” pop up on the screens of their computers. Notification of the drill also will be broadcast overhead, through Loyola’s Intranet and on large plasma televisions located throughout the system.
The Centers for Diseases Control recommends that all health-care workers receive a flu shot to protect them and prevent them from spreading influenza to their patients, family members and other close contacts. The CDC also recommends vaccination for all children 6 months up to 19 as well as for pregnant women, people age 50 and older and anyone with a chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory system. Each year in the U.S., between five to 20 percent of the population contracts the flu. Symptoms include an abrupt onset of fever, chills, headaches, exhaustion, aching muscles and a constant, unproductive cough. In extreme cases, the flu can lead to pneumonia or death. Most people recover but about 36,000 Americans die and 200,000 are hospitalized from the flu each year.
However, this year’s flu season is complicated by the simultaneous existence of the H1N1 flu virus, which first appeared in the spring of this year. Also, known as “swine flu,” the H1N1 strain has already been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
“Flu is primarily spread by respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Michael Koller, associate professor, Loyola University Stritch Chicago School of Medicine. “When somebody with influenza coughs or sneezes, out shoots this spray of flu virus that can infect anyone nearby.”
A flu pandemic spreads on a global scale and strikes irregularly with very high illness and mortality rates. Before the appearance of H1N1 flu, the Asian flu in 1957 and Hong Kong flu in 1968 were the last pandemic flu outbreaks.
“No one can predict when a natural epidemic or bioterrorism attack will occur. However, what we learn from this drill could save lives,” said Dr. Katherine Martens, clinical assistant professor, emergency medical services, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood. “If we someday experience a serious outbreak of a deadly disease, we will have a plan, which has been tested in a realistic scenario, ready to put into action.”
Visuals of employees receiving vaccinations and interview opportunities are available. Media planning to attend should contact Perry Drake in the media relations division of Loyola at (708) 216-7940, on his cell phone at (708) 441-7736 or call (708) 216-9000 and have him paged.