There has been much talk in the United States, Mexico, and Canada about the swine flu – this year’s virulent flu strain that has already caused deaths throughout North America. Expected to become a pandemic, nations from China to Canada have been stocking up on this year’s flu vaccine.
Doctors warn that those most at risk are the very young and the very old. What does this mean for elders living in long term care facilities in Canada? With many fragile elders living in one place, nursing homes and other long term care facilities can easily turn into a hotbed of flu development.
In Toronto, concerns over a recent unpublished paper have health officials scratching their heads over the best way to care for those seniors living in long term care facilities. The paper suggested that the regular, seasonal flu shot may actually increase the risk of catching the swine flu.
In the Toronto area, people over the age of 65 have thus far been spared from swine flu, but historically they are much more at risk and face more serious consequences from run-of-the-mill seasonal flus. For this reason, says Dr. Arlene King, who is the chief medical officer of health in Ontario, seniors will be the only ones to receive the seasonal flu shots until November. This includes seniors living in long term care facilities in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario.
Infection Control and Prevention
The Public Health Agency of Canada produced a fact sheet late in the summer of 2009 to stop the spread of swine flu and other flu strains in long term care facilities in Canada. The stated goal of the agency is to “keep the [long term care] facility (or major areas of the facility) completely free of the influenza virus in the first place.”
To this end, the agency has recommended certain measures to prevent the spread of the disease in long term care facilities. Some of these measures include:
- Source control: Preventing visits from relatives or friends who show symptoms of flu and using partitions to create distance between residents.
- Screening for flu: Actively screening family members and other visitors for the disease if swine flu has become prevalent in a community; encouraging staff members to self-screen for flu symptoms; and increased screening of residents for any flu-like symptoms.
- Hand and respiratory hygiene: Encouraging visitors, staff members, and residents to practice common sense hand washing and cough covering.
- Isolating sick residents: Should any resident show flu symptoms, they are immediately confined to his/her bed or room, and for residents who share a room, privacy curtains will be drawn and a minimum of two metres will be kept between the sick resident and the healthy roommate.
Thanks to these proactive steps being taken in Ontario and by the Public Health Agency of Canada, preventing a major flu outbreak inside long term care facilities this winter should be avoidable.