Are Your Residents Protected From the Big Three Influenza Viruses?

Angie SzumlinskiUncategorized

It is hard to believe but the 2011-2012 “flu season” is just around the corner.  The good news is there is no shortage of vaccine this year however some facilities may not have internal protocols in place to prevent the spread of these deadly viruses.  Honestly, we are busy and tend not to review our protocols until we need them however now is the time to be proactive!   Consider reviewing your policies and procedures, include the Medical Director and pharmacy and be sure your caregivers are educated on facility expectations.

The current CDC guidelines have not changed much from 2010-2011 however it never hurts to provide additional training on preventing the spread of infection for caregivers, residents and families.  The CDC’s recommendations for immunizing remain the same, anyone over the age of 6 months should receive the vaccine unless contraindicated by other health issues.  This would include your entire team of caregivers, residents, families and volunteers, pretty much anyone who spends time in your facility.  In an effort to prevent the flu virus from affecting resident health, many facilities offer the vaccine to employees and volunteers, have you considered doing this?  

The trend over the past several years has been to “require” the vaccine for all healthcare providers.  If an employee is unable to be vaccinated due to health issues they are required to wear a face mask when in patient care areas.   The effectiveness of face masks for preventing the spread of influenza has not been validated however influenza is known to be spread through droplets released in the air so it is considered a good standard.  Practicing good hand hygiene HAS been proven effective at reducing the spread infection so it may be time to provide additional training on handwashing and the use of alcohol hand sanitizers.  

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:

· Fever* or feeling feverish/chills

· Cough

· Sore throat

· Runny or stuffy nose

· Muscle or body aches

· Headaches

· Fatigue (very tired)

· Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Although these symptoms may also be present with the common cold, it is important to encourage people with these symptoms to not visit the facility.  This would include caregivers and volunteers.  Do you have a back up plan for staffing in the event of illness?  Remember, the influenza virus is spread through droplets so if a staff member presents with symptoms of the flu they should not be in the building.  Many facilities post a sign on the door in early fall, asking visitors to please stay home if they have symptoms of a cold or flu.  This is a great practice!

It is also important to remember that you can spread the influenza virus before you become symptomatic.  Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.  All the more reason to practice good hand hygiene! 

The use of anti-viral medications have been proven effective if administered timely however your Medical Director should be actively involved in developing the protocol and establish criteria.  Remember, all medications have side effects so some residents may not be appropriate to use anti-viral medications safely.  In the process of developing the protocol, a risk/benefit analysis should be done and each resident receiving the medications should be informed of the risks.  Informed consent should include any and all risks, adverse effects and expected outcomes and should be signed and dated by the resident or responsible party. 

Please refer to the CDC and APIC websites for additional information and as always, feel free to contact your HealthCap risk manager for assistance!  Have a safe and healthy fall!