The 2017-2018 influenza (flu) season has been one of the most active seasons in almost ten years. As of the last week of January 2018, the state of Pennsylvania (where Senior Living U is headquartered) had a total of 35,453 confirmed cases of influenza. Across the U.S., the total positive cases total well over 100,000 (and those are just the people who are getting tested!)
Individuals who are 65 years or older (including most residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities) are at higher risk of contracting the flu, as are:
- Adults who have chronic lung, heart, blood/blood vessel, liver, neurologic, neuromuscular, or metabolic disorders
- Adults who have suppressed immune systems
Working in a long-term care facility, your interactions with numerous residents, co-workers, and visitors, as well as your responsibilities, such as assisting residents with toileting or other activities of daily living, may also put you at higher risk of contracting the flu.
It’s important, this year and every year, to refresh your knowledge of infection control practices to ensure you remain healthy during flu season.
Important Flu Facts
How The Flu Spreads
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by a virus that is spread through respiratory droplets, which are expelled by coughing, sneezing, or even talking. You can catch the flu if droplets land on your mouth or nose. You can also be exposed to the flu if you touch a surface or object where droplets have landed and transfer the virus by touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.
A person with the flu is contagious from one day before they develop symptoms up to and until they are symptom-free, usually five to seven days after they become sick.
The height of seasonal flu is typically October through February, although it can sometimes last as long as April or May.
Suffering from the flu is much more severe than suffering from a common cold. In addition to a cough, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose, flu symptoms may also include fever and chills, headache, body aches, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Curing the Flu
Rest and fluids are highly recommended for anyone suffering from the flu. Many people think the flu can be cured using antibiotics. This belief is incorrect since the flu is caused by a virus and not bacteria. Therefore, antibiotics will not fight the disease. Anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu®, Relenza®, and Rapivab® can be effective treatments if they are started within two days of getting sick.
How to Curb the Spread of Infection
The best infection control practices that you can follow to protect yourself, your family, your co-workers, and your residents this flu season are diligent hand hygiene and a flu vaccination.
Proper hand washing is the most important step you can take towards preventing the spread of infection.
First, prepare the paper towel. Second, using warm, running water, rub your hands together with soap and water to create a lather that extends two inches above the wrists. This should take 20 seconds. Next, wash the palms, sides, and back of your hands and clean between your fingers, thumbs, and under your fingernails. This takes an additional 20 seconds and is followed by thoroughly rinsing your hands with warm water. Using the clean paper towel, that was prepared at the beginning, pat your hands until they are dry. Finally, before disposing of the paper towel, and to limit exposure to any new germs, use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.
In addition to washing your hands whenever they appear to be visibly dirty, it is important to remember to always wash your hands:
Before and after wearing gloves
- At the start of work as well as throughout your shift
- After using the restroom, assisting with toileting, or changing incontinence products
- Before preparing or serving food
- Prior to eating
- After wiping your nose, sneezing, or touching your face
Recent studies have shown that a flu shot can reduce the risk of flu illness by 50-60% among the overall population. Flu vaccines protect against several strains of Type A influenza, which makes people the sickest, as well as Type B flu viruses.
It’s strongly recommended that all assisted living staff get an annual flu vaccination. This includes not only nurses, but administrators, aides, food service employees, and custodial and housekeeping staff as well. However, the Center for Disease Control reports that long-term care professionals have one of the lowest flu vaccination rates in the healthcare provider community. During the 2013-2014 flu season, only 63% of long-term care employees received a flu shot, compared to almost 90% (the highest rating) of hospital employees who were vaccinated.
To encourage co-workers to get a flu shot, many communities offer low- or no-cost flu shot clinics to their employees. Similarly, assisted living communities will often arrange for a local health agency to come on site and dispense flu vaccines for residents. Likewise, flu shots can be administered during a routine office visit by the resident’s primary care provider.
- Create a Flu Action Team (FACT) – include your Executive Director, Human Resources, Resident Care Leaders, and Directors of Dining, Housekeeping, Activities, Maintenance, and Admissions.
- Up your inventory of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Disinfect public workspaces (nurses’ stations, break rooms, etc) with Lysol or other disinfectants
- Hold staff in-services focusing on infection control standards and flu education
- Limit visitors or large resident gathering as necessary
For year-round information on infection control best practices in your long-term care facility, review SeniorLivingU’s Clinical Considerations course, Focus on Infections, or download our H1N1 Flu Planning Guide.