10 Tips for Flu Prevention
Seniors who live in long-term care facilities like assisted living communities and nursing homes tend to be more susceptible to contracting the flu. Because of the close living quarters and weakened immune systems that plague many residents, preventing flu from spreading is vital to ensuring healthy communities during the winter months.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 70 to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur among the elderly population — people over 65 years old. And, the same population is hospitalized for flu complications more than any other demographic. So finding ways to prevent flu should be key to maintaining the health and happiness of your community’s residents.
That’s easier said than done, though. The influenza virus spreads through the air, so it travels from person-to-person via droplets made during coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread by surface contact, when one person deposits the virus on a hard object and another person touches it and then touches their own nose or mouth.
Here are ten things your senior living community can do to help decrease the spread of flu this season:
1. Encourage all residents to get a flu shot.
Influenza vaccines work by exposing the immune system to weakened versions of the three or four flu virus variants that experts expect will spread that year. They can’t give someone the flu, although some recipients may have mild symptoms like swelling around the injection site and low-grade fever. These symptoms are much easier to manage than the real flu! This year, your staff doesn’t need to worry about transporting community residents to a location where they can receive the vaccine. Mac’s LTC Pharmacy Solutions will come to your community and hold an on-site clinic where all residents can receive the flu shot. This makes it easier for residents and increases the number of residents who will get the vaccine, leading to higher levels of protection for the entire community.
2. Encourage all residents to get a pneumococcal vaccine.
Pneumococcal pneumonia is one of the most serious flu-related complications, and one that can lead to death. The pneumococcal vaccination protects against pneumonia, meningitis and some types of blood infections that can piggyback on serious flu cases. Talk to us about providing on-site clinics that offer this important shot along with the influenza vaccine.
3. Suggest that patients with early flu symptoms quickly consult a medical practitioner.
Identifying flu symptoms quickly means that residents are less likely to spread the virus, but it can be hard to know exactly when respiratory issues and general malaise are just a mild bug or whether they are indicative of flu. Encourage every patient who is “feeling under the weather” to see a nurse or doctor.
An added benefit: Anti-viral medications like TamiFlu can be given within 48 hours of the onset of any symptoms. These medicines are much more likely to shorten the duration and severity of the illness, but some residents may not know they must be administered so soon after symptoms appear.
4. Make alcohol-based hand sanitizer available throughout your community.
You can get dispensers that hang on the wall or are mounted on sturdy floor holders that will allow residents to sterilize their hands whenever needed. Place bottles of hand sanitizer in common areas like the library, laundry, and game rooms, and consider giving each resident their own pump dispenser with hand sanitizer.
5. Practice social distancing.
Because the flu virus is spread through the air, keeping people further apart can help prevent its spread. For the winter months, you might want to create ways to put more distance between chairs and tables in common areas like lounges, craft and gaming rooms.
6. Clean frequently touched surfaces with disinfectant wipes.
Use a product that guarantees it will kill at least 99 percent of viruses, including flu viruses, and wipe down areas that are often touched. In addition to doorknobs, clean computer keyboards, board game pieces and counter spaces. Make wipes available to residents to clean their frequently touched objects like cell phones and umbrella handles.
7. Hold quick “Prevent the Flu” reminders at mealtimes.
When residents are gathered in one place, take a few moments to remind them about good illness prevention practices, like coughing or sneezing into a tissue and then carefully disposing of the tissue, or coughing into the inner elbow. Residents should also be reminded to wash hands with soap and warm water frequently. This also helps emphasize the importance of keeping the flu from spreading and how seriously you take keeping your residents healthy.
8. Hang printed reminders to engage in healthy practices.
The CDC makes Cover Your Cough” printable fliers available that you can copy and hang in public areas. These educate readers about how flu is spread and are available in several languages. You can also hang reminders near bathrooms and sinks that encourage hand washing.
9. Distribute a list of disease-preventing practices in residents’ mailboxes.
You can go into more detail and explain best practices for covering coughs and sneezes, disinfecting surfaces and washing hands in a written communication with pictures for residents to read at their own convenience.
10. Communicate with residents if flu does develop at your facility.
Find a way to quickly inform residents if flu is present. Knowing that the disease is in their area can help people take precautions like washing hands and sterilizing surfaces more seriously. This can help stop the flu from spreading when it really matters.
With communication and best practices, you can minimize the impact of flu on the residents of your assisted living facility or nursing home. It all starts with getting most of the population properly vaccinated against the flu. Schedule a flu shot clinic at your facility and take the first step toward preventing the spread of influenza in your senior living community.
Need Additional Help Mitigating Flu Risk in Your Community?
Would you like to take more preventative measures? We offer onsite vaccination clinics to protect your community against sicknesses like the flu. One of the Mac’s TLC Pharmacy’s team members will travel to your community and administer vaccinations to your residents and staff members.