Each year, the U.S. experiences the flu season which occurs in the fall and winter. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says cases of the flu typically spike in December and February, it isn’t uncommon to see cases as late as May and sporadically throughout the remainder of the year. The flu, like many other viruses, can easily be spread from person to person and is particularly threatening to older adults, especially those residing in nursing homes.
The CDC estimates that from October 1, 2019, through April 4, 2020, between 24,000-62,000 deaths were recorded in connection with the flu, and between 410,000-740,000 individuals were hospitalized after contracting it. Because the flu spreads easily and carries some rather serious symptoms, long-term care facilities such as nursing homes must ensure they are doing their part to prevent a flu outbreak.
Steps Nursing Homes Can Take to Prevent a Flu Outbreak
According to the CDC, there are a number of steps nursing homes in Chicago and all across the U.S. can take to help prevent a flu outbreak. Here are a few of the CDC’s recommendations:
- Administer the flu vaccine to those who consent to it.
The flu vaccine is typically made available to the public year-round, although the CDC says it should be administered before influenza (i.e. flu) season starts. Typically, nursing homes will begin to administer the vaccine at the beginning of September but may continue to offer it later in the year. In the event a facility receives a new resident after their influenza vaccination program has ended, the CDC recommends that the facility discuss the benefits of the vaccination with the resident or their legal representative and administer it as soon as possible if they have given consent to receive it.
2. The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all healthcare personnel get vaccinated annually.
Because healthcare workers go in and out of nursing homes on a daily basis, they could potentially contract it from an outside source and bring it into the nursing home. However, healthcare workers who choose to get vaccinated may be able to help reduce the transmission of the flu.
3. Facilities should continuously monitor the health conditions of residents, staff, and visitors.
The CDC recommends that nursing homes conduct daily surveillance of residents, staff members, and visitors to ensure anyone who is entering the facility isn’t displaying symptoms closely related to the flu. If anyone entering a nursing home shows flu symptoms, they should not enter the facility until their symptoms have subsided.
4. Administer flu tests when necessary.
If healthcare staff members at a nursing home witness signs and symptoms of the flu among residents, they should administer a flu test so that the resident can be treated promptly in the event they did contract the flu.
How should nursing homes handle a flu outbreak when one occurs?
When two or more residents in a nursing home have contracted the flu, the CDC says an influenza outbreak might be occurring. When a nursing home suspects that it may have a flu outbreak, staff members must take immediate action. Some of the steps the CDC recommends nursing homes take include:
- Continuously monitor residents, staff members, etc. to see if anyone is showing signs related to the virus.
- Implement outbreak control measures. Each nursing home should have outbreak control measures in place and should implement them when situations like these arise.
- Healthcare workers should take standard precautions such as:
- Wearing gloves when coming in contact with potentially contaminated surfaces or respiratory secretions.
- Wearing a gown when coming in contact with clothing that is soiled with a resident’s respiratory secretions.
- Change gloves and gowns with each resident encounter.
- Always wash their hands before and after touching a resident or touching something in their environment.
In addition to the CDC’s recommendations outlined above, nursing homes are also expected to provide a sick resident with the appropriate level of treatment immediately to prevent from having their condition worsen. If necessary, a resident who has contracted the flu virus should also be isolated from other residents until he/she has gotten better.
What if nursing home staff members fail to implement the recommended safety precautions during a flu outbreak?
If staff members at a nursing home are aware there is an active flu outbreak in their facility and fail to implement the necessary safety measures to get it under control, there are ways a family member can recognize the facility for their negligence. For starters, a family member may file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). If a resident was harmed because he/she was neglected or did not receive the proper care during a flu outbreak, their family can also contact the Chicago, IL nursing home neglect lawyers at Dinizulu Law Group, Ltd. for legal advice on how to address the issue. If you would like to set up a free consultation to learn more about our firm and how we can help you, contact us at 1-312-384-1920.
Dinizulu Law Group, Ltd. can be reached at:
221 North La Salle Drive, Suite 1100
Chicago, IL 60601