This 2017-2018 flu season has been a rough one for seniors and others who have a compromised immune system. According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control, the most predominant form of flu virus seen this season in seniors is the influenza A (H3N2) strain, representing 87.8% of the viruses represented among those 65 and older. Seniors who live in nursing homes as opposed to a home setting are more likely to be exposed to the flu virus since they share an environment with dozens of other residents and staff. What does this mean for your loved one in a nursing home?
The influenza strain H3N2 is particularly dangerous for seniors and children and results in more deaths and hospitalizations than other types of the flu virus. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, just over 8% of senior deaths occurring the week ending January 13, 2018, were the result of influenza and pneumonia, a statistic that is higher than normal. But nursing homes are combating the potential problem by taking a proactive approach to minimizing the spread of the virus and preventing seniors from being exposed to it at all.
Government Safety Plans
In a facility where many people share the same common space, the government requires strict adherence to regulations meant to minimize the impact of the flu. Group-living homes are compelled to report two or more flu cases to the county or local health board. In this way, nursing home staff and administrators can be provided with antiviral drugs and preventative measures to keep the virus from spreading throughout the community. This early containment is vital since even healthy seniors have a lower immune system than the average adult. Those who are on medication or have cardiovascular disease, diabetes or other medical conditions are even more susceptible.
Minimizing The Impact Of The Flu
Many nursing homes in the country focus on preventing resident exposure to the flu by emphasizing hand-washing and minimizing visitors to the facility. But this doesn’t keep the flu at bay. Once an influenza case has been confirmed, the job of the nursing home staff becomes stopping it from spreading. One way to contain the flu is to reduce the chance for seniors to interact and spread the virus. This can be done in many ways:
- Keep seniors contained in their rooms
- Quarantine those seniors who are ill
- Treat residents with Tamiflu, which is known to reduce the duration of the flu by a day or two
- Provide flu and pneumonia shots to seniors who haven’t had their yearly immunizations
- Limit group/social activities during local outbreaks
While keeping seniors relegated to their rooms may seem like an extreme step, it has been done successfully in many areas of the country. For example, at Poway’s Villa Pomerado Convalescent Care Center in San Diego, residents were put in lock-down at the beginning of 2018 after 92 residents tested positive for Influenza A. This has served to keep residents from passing the virus to other residents and kept many vulnerable residents out of the ICU.
Past The 2017-2018 Flu Season
Flu season in the United States usually runs from October through May, with peaks between December and February). This means that there is still a month of peak activity to anticipate. If your senior loved one is living in one of the thousands of nursing homes across the country, chances are high that the flu will impact his nursing home at some point this year. You can ensure the health of your loved one by being vigilant; contact the nursing home administration and ask about the measures they are taking to combat this year’s flu outbreak, and don’t be afraid to bring up deficiencies you notice while visiting your loved one.