NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Receiving the seasonal flu vaccine while in the hospital does not increase surgical patients' health care utilization or their likelihood of being evaluated for infection after discharge, according to a new retrospective cohort study.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that hospitalized patients who are eligible for the flu vaccine receive it before discharge, but rates of vaccination remain low in surgical patients, Dr. Sara Tartof of Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena and her colleagues note in their report, published online March 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
This could be due to surgeons' concerns that adverse effects of influenza vaccine such as myalgia or fever could be attributed to surgical complications, or could complicate post-surgical care, they add.
"When we searched in the literature, we really just couldn't find any data that really speak to this question," Dr. Tartof told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.
She and her colleagues looked at Kaiser Permanente Southern California patients aged six months or older who had inpatient surgery between September 2010 and March 2013. Of the 42,777 surgeries in their analysis, 6,420 included seasonal flu vaccination during hospitalization.
The researchers found no differences between the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups in the risk of inpatient visits,emergency department visits, post-discharge fever, or clinical evaluation for infection. There was a marginal increase in the risk of outpatient visits (relative risk 1.05, p=0.032).
"We feel that the benefits of vaccination outweigh this risk," Dr. Tartof said. "For high-risk patients, this is a health care contact, this is an opportunity to vaccinate, and we don't want to miss those."
Many patients in the study who were vaccinated against the flu received the shot when they were discharged, the researcher noted. "This may be a more comfortable time for patients and for their clinicians to vaccinate," she said.
Dr. Tartof and her colleagues are now planning to repeat the study in a larger population of nonsurgical inpatients, including children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded this research. Five coauthors reported disclosures.