5 Ways to Prevent the Flu from Spreading in Illinois Nursing Homes

An estimated 80,000 people across the U.S. died of flu-related illnesses during the 2017-18 flu season, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And with the flu season well on its way to another deadly peak, reports of the very young and the very old being hit the worst are starting to emerge. Many of the elderly flu victims, those ages 65 years and older, are at greater risk for developing serious complications and are also residents of nursing home and long-term care communities. With flu activity expected to rise in the weeks and months ahead, be sure your loved one’s nursing home is prepared.

  1. Hand Washing and Hygiene: Health care facilities should provide frequent staff training on infection prevention techniques and management, including hand washing, equipment sterilization, identifying sick patients for isolation, and the quick identification of flu symptoms and treatment methods. Good hand hygiene should especially be practiced before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and upon removal of personal protective equipment, including gloves. Residents and guests should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene.
  2. Vaccinate Residents (and Workers): Each resident is to be vaccinated unless contraindicated medically, the resident or legal representative refuses vaccination, or the vaccine is not available because of shortage, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And in 2018, Illinois law made it a requirement for employees at more than 3,000 state-licensed hospital and health care facilities, including long-term care facilities, to receive the flu vaccination. Vaccinating residents and healthcare personnel is the only truly effective strategy for influenza control. Staff who become symptomatic should take sick leave.
  3. Limit Contact with Outside Visitors: With residents living in close quarters and using shared spaces, everyone becomes vulnerable to the illness. But limiting the number of people who can expose the environments to flu symptoms can help. Individuals may be able to pass the flu to someone beginning one day before showing symptoms until 5 to 7 days after becoming sick with the flu. Some nursing homes and hospitals in Illinois have enacted temporary facility restrictions for visitors. Be sure to call ahead before making a stop and reschedule a stop if you aren’t feeling well or someone in your household is ill.
  4. Keep Common Areas Clean and Disinfected: Flu prevention in nursing homes can be difficult, but certainly not impossible. While hand washing is considered the first line of defense against the transmission of infections, equipment and furniture are still at risk, and should be sterilized and cleaned with the right disinfectant solution. Nursing homes should be kept clean and tidy on a routine basis.
  5. Diagnose and Treat: Between 54% and 70% percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people 65 years and older. If a resident in a long-term care facility is suspected of having the flu, it’s important to test, isolate and provide antiviral therapy. This helps to limit the potential spread of the virus to others.

Flu-related issues that can turn fatal include pneumonia, sepsis and heart attack and can also lead to multi-organ failure. People who are 65 and older who have underlying illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease, are most affected. Still severe complications can happen to any resident who does not receive the appropriate treatment or a timely diagnosis from a physician. Flu season in the U.S. runs from October through May, according to the CDC.

Identifying Flu Symptoms in Elderly

Flu and cold symptoms can be similar, but flu signs and symptoms usually come on suddenly vs gradually. Older adults who are ill with flu often feel some or all of these symptoms, which can change throughout their sickness.

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Chest discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

The CDC says it’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever. Symptoms should never be ignored, and resident who begin to exhibit any sickness or change in health should be seen by a doctor immediately and run tests to have the virus confirmed. Antiviral medications should be provided when prompted.

Unfortunately, many nursing homes and long-term care facilities are not necessarily prepared for a flu prevention program also designed to prevent a deadly flu outbreak among residents. Additionally, no-one is tracking or is required to track whether health care facilities are vaccinating residents and staff.

And remember, Illinois nursing homes are routinely understaffed. During a flu outbreak, many staff may be on sick leave and residents left in dire situations. With fewer nurses and less care support, bad behaviors and poor management of patient needs are likely to follow. Our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers have worked on many cases where understaffing and concerns with administrative leadership created a relaxed environment for residents to become neglected, abused and mistreated by care staff.

Respected Elder Abuse and Nursing Home Negligence Attorneys

If a loved one has sustained a serious flu-related complication resulting from neglect or missed medical treatments provided at a nursing home or due to dangerously low staffing levels, they may be entitled to compensation. There is a time limit to file a nursing home neglect case in Illinois, so please contact us now for a free consultation with one of our skilled nursing home attorneys or call us at (312) 332-2872.

Located in Chicago, Levin & Perconti is one of the nation’s most recognized and respected leaders in the areas of elder abuse and nursing home negligence litigation. Our attorneys have settled cases throughout the city of Chicago, surrounding suburbs, and the entire state of Illinois.

Also read: Severe and Fatal Illnesses Caused by Influenza Outbreaks in Nursing Homes