With influenza activity on the rise throughout the country, many are wondering what they can do to prevent themselves and those in their care from contracting the virus. At Vicar’s Landing in Ponte Vedra Beach, staff are taking every precaution to protect their elderly residents after having recently reported an outbreak of the illness.
“We had two residents come back from the hospital with the flu,” explained Kendall Bryan, director of health services at the nursing home. “Once that happens, with two confirmed cases, we have to notify the Department of Health, which we did, and then we notify AHCA, which is the Agency for Health Care Administration. They’re our licensing body and they make sure we’re in compliance with all the rules and regulations. So, we notified everybody that we’re supposed to, and now our approach here is just to be very aggressive with it and stop anything before it happens, and I’d say it’s been successful so far.”
As with any viral illness, seniors are more at-risk when it comes to the flu, as the immune system tends to weaken with age. This flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 17,000 confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported in the U.S., and the highest hospitalization rate has been among people age 65 and older. While the virus itself can lead to severe illness, however, it is often the complications resulting from the flu, like pneumonia, that pose the most danger to the elderly.
“Anytime you’re in a health care facility, you’re compromised, because you wouldn’t be here if you were a healthy, elderly person,” said Margaret Dowless, assistant director of nursing and infection control officer. “They always have other predisposed factors that make them more at-risk if they get the flu, so we’re just trying to prevent those type of things.”
According to Dowless, the nursing home has taken several precautions to protect residents. In addition to offering the usual flu shots to both residents and employees, limitations have been imposed on visiting and activities, and the main dining room has been closed. Double doors in the hallways are also being kept closed to help isolate any future outbreaks, and employees who feel unwell are being encouraged to stay home.
Even with such safety measures, however, with so many residents, visitors and staff to account for, there is no guarantee that such protections will be successful.
“There’s only so many precautions that you can take,” Director of Nursing Kyle Lussier advised. “There’s no way to completely prevent (an outbreak), but all the precautions are in place that should hopefully minimize the ability for it to spread.”
According to Bryan, the best that Vicar’s staff can do is to remain cautious and alert.
“Really you just become more vigilant on who’s coming in, who’s going out, who’s going in what room and then five to seven days after the last confirmed case, you start lifting those things,” he said.
Noting that his own parents are currently sick, Bryan added that it is vital for anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to get checked as soon as possible.
“If you start exhibiting any of those signs, call your doctor,” he said. “Don’t wait around and just think it will go away.”