Protecting your residents and facility with vaccinations
As people age their immune systems weaken, placing older adults at an increased risk for contracting influenza and developing serious complications such as pneumonia. The CDC estimates that up to 85% of flu-related deaths and 70% of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 years and older. It is always recommended to try and prevent transmission of influenza viruses within senior living communities. In order to do this, a multi-step approach is required that includes the following:
- Surveillance and Testing
- Containing Outbreaks and Infection Control
- Antiviral Treatment
A new flu vaccination is required each year. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all residents and health care workers begin receiving it as soon as it can be distributed which is typically in early fall.
Surveillance and Testing:
If influenza activity has been reported in your area always monitor residents, employees and visitors for flu symptoms. Continue this throughout the flu season. Signs and symptoms include: fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, and fatigue.
Employees and visitors who demonstrate symptoms or have tested positive for the virus should not be allowed into the community until the illness resolves. Staff should alert the appropriate personnel if influenza symptoms are observed in a resident so arrangements can be made for influenza testing (usually via nasal swab). Testing will help determine the appropriate medical treatment for the individual as well as outline infection control strategies to implement at your senior living community.
Containing Outbreaks and Infection Control:
The CDC defines an influenza outbreak as two or more laboratory-confirmed positive influenza cases in a facility or the presence of one positive case along with other cases of respiratory infection. Once an outbreak has been identified, outbreak prevention and control measures should be implemented immediately. The following outbreak and infection control precautions should be taken with residents who test positive or are suspected to have the flu:
- Restrict those who are ill to their own apartment or living area: Encourage ill residents to limit their movement within your senior living community. This can help reduce the spread of the influenza virus to others.
- Implement of droplet precautions: Droplet precautions aim to reduce the transmission of pathogens through airborne secretions (e.g. via cough or sneeze). They should be implemented for seven days after the onset of illness or until 24 hours after symptoms resolve (whichever is longer).
Droplet precautions include the following:
- Employees should wear a single-use facemask and gloves upon entering the resident’s apartment.
- Dispose of contaminated materials prior to leaving and wash your hands.
- The ill resident should wear a facemask if they need to leave their apartment.
- Employees should inform other departments or outside facilities of a suspected or confirmed influenza case prior to transferring a resident (e.g. transportation services, home care agencies, hospital, clinic, etc.).
- Consider an antiviral treatment option best suited for your organization.
Antiviral drugs can lessen influenza symptoms, shorten the time an individual is ill, and prevent serious complications like pneumonia. Antiviral treatments work best when started at the onset of symptoms. It is always recommended to reach out to a medical professional regarding treatment options as soon as possible to begin treatment.
Antiviral Chemoprophylaxis is a prophylactic antiviral medication that can reduce the chance of infection in residents that have been exposed to the flu but are currently not displaying influenza symptoms. It is recommended for senior living communities who are experiencing outbreaks and anyone exposed to the flu who is at high risk for developing serious complications. The CDC recommends treatment lasting a minimum of two weeks in long-term care facilities.
Overall, not every organization will be affected the same way by the influenza virus, but its effects can be devastating. Your organization needs to take the necessary precautions to prevent and contain outbreaks. To help develop your current practices, it is always recommended to have well-defined policies and procedures established prior to flu season. This can help prepare your organization to prevent large scale outbreaks and create standard operating procedures for containing the virus. In addition, your staff should be well versed in your policies and procedures to help prevent outbreaks. It is recommended that training on your policies and procedures are held annually or after any changes have been made. If changes are made they should always be documented and made available for staff.