... but pandemic flu in nursing facilities could be controlled, researchers say

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A set of "simple" and "workable" non-pharmacological interventions that staff members could easily implement may be within nursing home operators' grasp for battling a pandemic flu outbreak, researchers say.

The team of researchers used mathematical modeling to discern what steps would be most helpful for providers in the case of a widespread outbreak. Their findings were published in an online edition of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

"Our work is the first to provide a flexible road map for prevention and protection of vulnerable populations living in residential care facilities," said Gerardo Chowell-Puente, an assistant professor in Arizona State's School of Human Evolution and Social Change. "We found that something previously considered implausible - the protection of a healthcare institution against pandemic influenza by using only non-pharmaceutical measures - may be possible and may be practical."

Now, study authors are seeking feedback from the provider community. The five types of non-pharmaceutical interventions they evaluated were: screening visitors and staff upon return to a facility; isolating certain residents; restricting visit times or means of communication by visitors; having visitors and staff wash hands and use protective masks; and modifying work schedules.

"The biggest surprise in our study was identifying the critical role that staff plays in controlling the spread and preventing the introduction of disease in the facilities," said lead author Miriam Nuño, of UCLA and the Harvard School of Public Health. "Our research shows the current working demands of staff need to be improved if we hope to improve our preparedness plans."