Influenza has hit our industry these past two weeks with no decrease in cases in sight. The spread on influenza officially hit epidemic levels last week based on the number of cases, deaths and correlating pneumonia according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is indicated that this outbreak in one of the worst in over 10 years! CDC says that 41 states are experiencing widespread flu activity, and the agency estimates 128 million doses of the flu vaccine have been administered this month, which constitutes 95 percent of the estimated 135 million doses manufacturers planned to make this year.

In the post-acute care industry, providers are reporting record number of outbreaks in skilled nursing and assisted living communities nationwide.

Prevention, preparation and outbreak response are necessary steps for providers in light of continued increase of this virus. Our employees need to be hyper vigilant at this time to avoid the spread of influenza. 

The below are initial suggestions to provide guidance during this challenging time. 

  1. Provide education to clients, residents, staff, families and visitors. Have education available at entrance to facility.
  2. Post signs at all entrances to facility to please consider the visit if they are exhibiting symptoms of flu. These include fever, headache, body aches, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  3. If an outbreak is occurring (which is defined as more than two residents) post signs at all entrances of building that signs and symptoms of influenza have been noted in the facility.
  4. Provide face masks for those with cough.
  5. Consider use of face masks for those who declined the influenza vaccination.
  6. Encourage covering of mouth and nose (not in the hand) when sneezing.
  7. Wash hands frequently.
  8. Avoid close contact with others if people do not feel well.
  9. Encourage people to stay home if ill and to see a physician.
  10. Communicate with Medical Director at your facility if one case of Influenza is confirmed. Consider antiviral medication administration with confirmed influenza
  11. Notify local Department of Health with confirmed influenza and log those that display symptoms
  12. Consider review of HR policies for those who are ill. Document reason for call-in and follow Infection Control procedures for tracking per requirements
  13. Develop and implement a plan for emergency staffing

Administrators should monitor:

  • Nosocomial transmission of flu
  • Isolation of potentially infected individuals
  • Cohorting of potentially infected individuals

Facilities should have a flu communication plan.

1. Develop a communication plan with:

  • Public health authorities

  • Staff members

  • Families, visitors, volunteers, contractors

2. Develop a list of alternate phone numbers for staff, such as cell phone numbers.

3. Develop a list of healthcare facilities to maintain open communication:

  • Local nursing homes
  • Local hospitals
  • Emergency medical response
  • Community organizations

Preparation, prevention and response are key to managing outbreaks and reducing the number of residents and staff affected by influenza. You can be a part of keeping residents and staff healthy.

Michelle Stober, RN, BS, PHN, is a director of interim management services and clinical programs at Pathway Health Services.