Help prevent flu pandemic

CHICAGO—The Illinois Council on Long Term Care, a statewide association representing 26,000 long-term care professionals, is preparing its members for the possibility of a pandemic flu outbreak.

Nursing homes serve very high-risk and susceptible populations, and the Illinois Council wants to make sure the state’s 100,000 nursing home residents are protected.

The Council has attended flu pandemic conferences sponsored by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). In addition, the Council wrote several clinical newsletters about the avian flu pandemic, and is drafting a model facility policy for its membership.

“Although initial symptoms are similar to regular influenza, pandemic flu is likely to be far more serious and deadly because there are no known vaccines for humans,” said Susan Duda-Gardiner, director of clinical services for the Illinois Council. “Pandemic flu can spread outside the normal flu season, which is November to March, and cause much greater social disruption than regular flu.”

Symptoms of avian influenza can range from typical human influenza-like symptoms to eye infections, pneumonia and severe respiratory disease. Unlike seasonal flu, healthy people also will be at increased risk for serious complications because no one has developed immunity to this virus. The symptoms can progress to complications and death in as quickly as two days.

When a pandemic starts, everyone in Illinois and the nation could be at risk. The time to start planning for a pandemic is now. Following are some examples of recommendations from the Illinois Council for nursing professionals providing care during an avian flu epidemic:

Stop visitors at the door and check for flu-like symptoms. Do not allow anyone with flu-like symptoms into the building, as it puts residents at extreme risk. Post signs outside the front doors indicating anyone with flu-like symptoms should not come in.

Have items available throughout the building for appropriate cough etiquette, including multiple boxes of facial tissue, wastebaskets with covers, hand gel sanitizers, etc. Teach residents, staff and visitors about proper cough techniques.

Keep all residents with flu-like symptoms together in one section of the building, away from the healthier residents. Have one designated team of staff members work in this section only.

Have staff members providing care to residents with flu-like symptoms follow strict isolation procedures, wearing gloves, facial masks and gowns as needed.

Vigilantly monitor outbreaks of infection in your local area to quickly launch into pandemic mode when needed.

Be prepared to provide acute care in your nursing facility in case the local hospitals become overloaded.

Plan for the stockpiling of at least a week’s supply of consumable resources, including medical supplies, when there is evidence that pandemic influenza has reached the United States.

To keep yourself and your loved ones living in nursing homes healthy, limiting the spread of germs, the Illinois Council recommends the following:

Clean your hands frequently and after coughing or sneezing with soap and water or an alcohol-based cleaner;

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze;

Put a used tissue in a covered, hands-free wastebasket;

Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don’t have a tissue;

Continue to get a flu shot to help protect yourself from seasonal flu and stay healthy (this shot will not protect you against pandemic influenza). People older than 65 and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma should also get a pneumonia shot every five years to prevent secondary infection; and

If you become infected with the flu pandemic virus, stay home from work and school for seven days after your symptoms have cleared, as you still remain infectious during this time. Children 12 years old and younger remain infections for up to 21 days. Do not visit nursing homes during this period, as these residents are very much at risk.

To stay informed about the pandemic flu, visit the official federal government Web site at or the IDPH Web site at, which contains the latest information about outbreaks, safety guidelines and travel advisories. Another source for information about pandemic influenza is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

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