Are you having a productive Infection Prevention Week 2015? In case news of the occasion passed you by, International Infection Prevention Week takes place every year during the third week of October. Since the focus of the week is on stopping the spread of infections, now seems like a good time to discuss the topic of flu prevention on the Care Shop blog.
Flu is a year-round risk for care home residents, who are particularly at risk of infection and can face complications as a result of flu. From September onwards we become more acutely aware of the risk of flu due to the change in conditions that can make it easier for flu to spread. With this in mind, now is very much the time to put flu prevention plans in place in your care home and to start taking extra precautions to protect both residents and visitors, and not forgetting yourselves.
Knowledge is power – spotting the symptoms of flu
It can be tricky to tell the difference between cold and flu symptoms as they can at first appear to present with similar symptoms. Flu does tend to linger longer and typically those infected might have a fever and/or chills, have headaches, muscle pain, though they can also suffer with sore throats, sickness, a cough and a stuffy nose. Typically those who are suffering from flu will be less animated and suffer fatigue. Much of your infection prevention control plan to deal with flu is likely to be proactive. The vaccination of staff as well as residents is recommended as it can significantly lower infection rates since carers can unintentionally spread infection. Being able to recognise the symptoms of flu and maintaining great hygiene practices to stop it spreading between patients is incredibly important.
Good hand hygiene is also fundamental when it comes to stopping the spread of flu, so make sure you check out our recent blog post on the topic so you know when and how to properly wash your hands, and post up our infection control posters around your care home to prompt your staff to practise proper hygiene habits.
Dealing with an outbreak
Influenza outbreaks can often strike before immunisation for the season is fully underway, and when this happens immunisation has limited effectiveness in terms of prevention of spread. What remains important throughout is that proper precautions are taken when caring for residents suffering symptoms of flu. Flu can spread through direct and indirect contact, through the air. The germs that cause flu can live outside of the body for 24 hours and individuals can be come infectious before they feel ill.
So, alongside proper hand hygiene incorporating washing with alcohol rub or soap, particular attention should be paid to cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, wearing and appropriate disposal of PPE like plastic aprons, and use of disposable gloves. Where appropriate, it might be necessary to ask those with symptoms to stay in their rooms to minimise risk of cross contamination.
If an outbreak is suspected, awareness is crucial to stopping its spread – this means using proper signage, assigning separate staff to affected and non-affected areas if possible and discouraging visitors – particularly from at-risk groups such as the elderly. Flu is the most common airborne respiratory infection found in care homes and an outbreak is judged to have occurred when two or more cases have arisen with 48 hours, or three or more within 72 hours. This government guide provides information on handling an outbreak, though your first action will be to contact your local health protection team.
So, what’s the verdict? Is your care home ready for flu season? Checkout our quiz on infection control in care homes to see how prepared you are.