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Flu jab cuts hospital admissions by two thirds

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 12 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:901

Influenza vaccination can reduce hospital admissions for pneumonia, influenza, bronchitis, and emphysema by around 60%, according to new research.

The data were presented earlier this week at the Department of Health's launch of its Flu Awareness Campaign, where Sir Kenneth Calman, the chief medical officer, reiterated the importance of vaccination for patients at high risk. He said that the vaccine should be given to people regardless of age who have a chronic heart or chest complaint, chronic kidney disease, or diabetes or who have lowered immunity. In addition, people in residential or nursing homes, where influenza can spread quickly, should also be vaccinated.

Dr Jon Van-Tam, lecturer in public health medicine and epidemiology at the University Hospital in Nottingham, presented the results of his case-control study, which is to be published shortly in the journal Epidemiology and Infection. He compared adults admitted to hospitals in Leicestershire between 1 December 1989 and 31 January 1990 who had a diagnosis on discharge of pneumonia, emphysema, influenza, and bronchitis with matched controls.

The likelihood of being admitted to hospital was twice as high as baseline in patients in the high risk groups. But the study found that hospital admission was reduced by 63% in the patients who had received influenza vaccine. “This clearly shows the importance and efficacy of flu vaccines for those at higher risk,” said Dr Van-Tam. “If we extrapolated this finding influenza vaccination would have prevented between 40 and 45% of the admissions we encountered, which has obvious cost implications for the NHS,” he said.

A second study also reported at the launch showed that the protection given by influenza vaccination is achieved quickly, with an effective titre of antibodies against the virus present within a few days of vaccination.—JACQUI WISE, BMJ

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