Never Fear, Flu Season is Here

Flu season is upon us once again.  Currently, about 6% of the US population is suffering from flu symptoms.  What is the flu?  Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.  Its onset is usually abrupt.  Symptoms of the flu include: fatigue, general body aches, headaches, cough, sore throat, fever.  Certain groups of people, such as older adults, are at high risk for developing flu associated complications like sinus infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis.

The flu virus can be spread from an infected host to others up to 6 feet away.  It is mainly spread by droplet contact.  When a person infected with the flu virus coughs or sneezes, those droplets can come into contact with another person’s mucous membranes (lips, mouth, nose, lungs).  Most healthy adults can be infectious up to 24 hours before they have any symptoms, and up to 1 week after symptoms develop.  This means it is possible to spread the flu even before you realize that you have it! 

How do we prevent the spreading the flu to residents in our assisted living facilities or residential care homes?  The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and up.  Even though flu season is in full swing it’s not too late to get vaccinated.   Avoid close contact with people who are sick.  If a staff member is sick send them home.  Clean all commonly used surfaces such as door handles, light switches, TV remotes, telephones, faucet handles… with a disinfectant specifically designed to “kill” the flu virus.  If a resident does become sick, try to keep them away from other residents as much as possible (especially during meal times).  Remember the one and done rule when it comes to tissues.  Be vigilant about reminding your residents (especially those with dementia) to throw away their tissue after every use.  Never ever ever let your residents walk wound with a dirty used handkerchief.  That’s like having their own personal petri dish that they can share with all their friends.  Make sure your staff and residents clean their hands often throughout the day.  Soap and warm water is the best, but in a pinch an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will do.

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