Nursing centers have an important role when it comes to eliminating and minimizing the serious effects from influenza illness on the elderly and disabled. Individuals 65 years or older are one of the high risk groups who can experience serious complications, even death, from influenza infection. Advanced age and having multiple chronic conditions increases the risk for complications. Influenza complications can result in bacteria pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and dehydration. In the elderly, influenza can worsen conditions like asthma, stroke, COPD, heart disease and kidney disease.
To prepare for the influenza season, nursing centers need to start to prepare early and order vaccines in May. It is important to administer the vaccine in September and before the season starts. Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after the vaccine to develop antibodies. Thus, administering the vaccine in September, when possible, helps ensure your residents are immunized before the active influenza season begins.
Minimizing the Flu for Residents
Influenza is a respiratory virus of the nose, throat and lung. It can be spread through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing and talking. The virus can spread person-to-person up to six feet away. Care staff needs to be conscious about washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs. In addition to the extra attention given to good hand hygiene, staff needs to do the following to help minimize influenza risk and complications:
- Make sure all residents receive the influenza vaccine if it is not contraindicated.
- For residents who cannot have the vaccination due to illness, make sure they receive the vaccine when illness symptoms abate.
- For the resident who has a chicken allergy, check with the treating physician about the resident’s ability to receive the vaccine. Vaccine reactions are rare and people with egg allergies who report experiencing hives should be considered for the vaccine. Only those individuals with a history of severe reaction to chicken eggs should not have the vaccine and people with a history of Guillain-Barre´ Syndrome (a paralytic illness).
Health Care Personnel
Long term care staff should also pay attention to their own health and seek protection from influenza. Be sure to:
- Get your vaccination at the start of the influenza season.
- If you are not vaccinated and think you may have influenza, be aware that you can infect others one day before full symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. If you have not been vaccinated and you are ill, stay home and recover.
- If you have not been vaccinated and it is the influenza season, wear proper respiratory protection and again, be sure hands are washed before and after each resident contact and for all other situations where hand washing is indicated. Many States have instituted regulation regarding influence vaccinations for healthcare workers, so be sure you know your State’s position.
- Check with your employer about their resident vaccination program since many centers also offer the vaccine to employees as well.
All regular visitors to your center should be encouraged to get an influenza vaccination. If visitors have not received it, advise them to not visit if they are ill. Centers may also consider having visitors wear masks (particularly during January and February – the peak months for influenza outbreaks).