Seniors in Long Term Care Facilities Remain Vulnerable During Flu Season

by | Feb 12, 2013

Flu season this year has been notably severe and especially hard on the elderly. To help combat spread of the illness, here are 8 tips for senior living communities to help keep residents healthy and keep the Flu at bay.

The Flu is attacking the elderly at historically high rates this season.

For most, getting the Flu is debilitating enough. But for many seniors with weakened immune systems and other vulnerabilities, catching the Flu can cause complications that can be devastating and potentially fatal.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people age 65 and older getting the Flu has risen significantly over the last 2 weeks and seniors are being hospitalized at a rate of about 82 per 100,000 cases. Of the more than 5,000 people hospitalized because of the flu so far this year, according to CDC, half of those hospitalized have been elderly.

Even areas of the country where Flu is least common have been impacted. In Florida, it is reported that 17 nursing homes have had Flu outbreaks this season including two in Palm Beach County just last month.

“Residents and staff of long-term care communities are strongly encouraged to get the Flu vaccine as a first defense, but that’s just one step in what must be a broader plan for senior care facilities in Flu season,” said Saul Greenberger, President and CEO of long-term care pharmacy PharmScript and former nursing home administrator.

PharmScript offers 8 critical steps senior living communities should take to help prevent the spread of the Flu:

1. Vaccination
Making sure all health care personnel and residents get an annual flu vaccine is the critical first step to flu prevention. Senior care communities should place pharmacy orders ahead of Flu season. The CDC reports that the vaccine is effective against 91 percent of the influenza strains discovered, although the Flu shot may be less effective in seniors.

2. Testing
Testing should occur when any resident has signs or symptoms of influenza-like illness, regardless of whether or not it is Flu season.

3. Hygiene and Cough Etiquette
Respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette are measures designed to minimize potential exposures of all respiratory pathogens, including influenza virus, in healthcare settings and should be adhered to by everyone – patients, visitors, and health care personnel – upon entry, and continued for the entire duration of the stay in the facility. Recommended preventions include practicing standard precautions like regular hand washing.

4. No Ill Health Care Personnel
Health care personnel who develop any signs of the influenza illness should be instructed not to report to work. They should not return to work until they are without fever for at least 24 hours. If symptoms such as cough and sneezing are still present upon their return, they should follow respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.

5. Limit Visitations
Exclude people who are currently ill from visiting the facility. Post signs throughout the facility restricting visitations of residents by children during flu outbreaks.

6. Isolation
Consider having symptomatic residents stay in their own room, restricting their group activities, and having them take meals to their rooms when possible.

7. Antiviral Treatment and Chemoprophylaxis
Treatment of flu should begin as soon as diagnosis is made. For the medication to be most effective, it is recommended to begin treatment with Tamiflu within 48 hours of appearance of symptoms. For those health care personnel or residents who were exposed to the illness, antiviral chemoprophylaxis is recommended. Again, here is where you’ll need your pharmacy’s assistance in getting these delivered immediately.

8. Document, Document, Document
If there is a cluster of symptomatic residents, an ad hoc infection control meeting should be held immediately and properly documented to review actions taken by the facility. Remember, if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.

Get in touch