October 28, 2009

WRHA's "FluCru" Provides Flu Facts

They're armed with information about influenza. Dressed in dark blue t-shirts and taking messages to the streets, they have the latest ammunition in the fight against the biggest pandemic of the 21st century.  They are the "FluCru," and they're ready to fight the flu with the most powerful weapon we can muster: knowledge.

The WRHA FluCru is a group of "on-call" nursing students making presentations to organizations such as senior centres, recreation and community groups providing valuable information about seasonal and H1N1 influenza, vaccinations, and facts about the benefits of immunization.

The idea originated during a public health measures meeting where a need was identified to share public health information about influenza and the H1N1 virus.

"From a psychosocial health perspective, providing people with information is one way to reduce anxiety and provide them with more capacity and control over their health situation," says Lynda Tjaden, WRHA Director of Public Health about the need to provide the public with information about pandemic H1N1.

"There are decisions people need to make in terms of getting immunized. It's not as simple as getting vaccinated or not - they need to consider what the risks are if they don't take the vaccine. We're providing people with information to empower them to make decisions about their health and to feel confident in their decision."

The WRHA has trained University of Manitoba fourth year nursing students to focus on engaging the public at the community level about flu education and prevention.

From the end of September until early December, the senior nursing students will spend their community rotation engaging and informing the citizens of Winnipeg about seasonal and H1N1 influenza, immunization and prevention techniques. Two sets of students work Tuesday through Friday in teams of eight, responding to community requests for information about influenza.

The FluCru played a role in the seasonal influenza campaign (October 14 - 16, 2009). They were there with their teachers immunizing a portion of the 18,722 clients. Along with delivering presentations, the FluCru will play an important role in H1N1 immunization clinics and they will be incorporated into service delivery.

While messages like staying home if you're sick, washing your hands and covering your cough are consistent flu prevention techniques, communicating these to seniors, children, teenagers and people for whom English is their second language works a little differently. Communicating important public health information to diverse audiences is also providing nursing students with practical work experience in health promotion and teaching.

The FluCru has met requests for presentations throughout the city. They've made quite an impression on the public, who has welcomed the opportunity to have their questions answered. The north area of the city - particularly Seven Oaks - has received the most presentation requests. Along with delivering information about H1N1 and immunization to a wide variety of age groups, the FluCru is also engaging urban Aboriginals, downtown office groups and disadvantaged groups in Winnipeg's inner city.

Cheryl Cusack, RN and Clinical Nurse Specialist with the WRHA's Population & Public Health department has been involved from the idea's inception and helped coordinate the student placements. "We've been hearing good feedback from the university and community areas," says Cheryl. "The FluCru is being really well-received by the public, who appreciates the chance to get their questions answered from a source they can trust."

Given community interest for H1N1 information, the FluCru is a solution that benefits everyone: the community, the students themselves and the WRHA. "The approach we take is where we can really support the community and individuals in their health and making sure they can do what they can to prevent them from getting sick," says Lynda. "It's not just about us increasing knowledge about pandemic H1N1, it's also about supporting them in making decisions that will help them prevent getting the flu."

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