By Ronald J. Chappuis, VP of Healthcare Marketing, North America, SC Johnson Professional
Last year’s flu season resulted in up to 61,200 deaths. That’s nearly six times the number of deaths caused by drunk driving, making the flu one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.
Despite this troubling trend, only 45.3 percent of adults are were vaccinated against the influenza virus.
It’s no secret that the elderly are at a greater risk of contracting the flu virus than younger, healthier adults. Due to weakened immune systems, older adults are particularly vulnerable to severe complications and account for most flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations.
For geriatric individuals living in assisted living facilities, cold and flu season can prove to be especially difficult. Residents in these facilities tend to live in close quarters and often share common areas such as tables, eating spaces and recreational items allowing illnesses to be easily spread. Furthermore, cross contamination between resident rooms can also occur if facility staff don’t wash their hands effectively between visiting and checking on residents.
While getting the influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent contracting the illness, it’s crucial that assisted living facilities implement an effective hand hygiene program as keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps one can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Long term care facilities should consider these best practices for maintaining a healthy living environment and keeping employees and residents as healthy as possible during flu season.
- Remind employees about handwashing. Reminding employees who come into contact with multiple residents a day to wash their hands often is extremely important, as proper handwashing with soap can prevent respiratory infections by 16-21 percent. In addition, providing hand sanitizer at strategic points in the facility such as outside resident rooms, in common areas and restrooms can help staff have easy access to proper hand hygiene tools and also help prevent the rapid spread of infection. Displaying posters, information boards and other reminders near handwashing stations can also make a difference when promoting hand hygiene.
- Encourage residents to handwash. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands often and for at least 20 seconds at a time. This strategy can prove invaluable during cold and flu season, as proper handwashing with soap and warm water can kill or inactivate certain kinds of germs like norovirus, and limit the spread of the flu. Handwashing is one of the best preventative measures residents of assisted living facilities can take to combat flu season.
- Thoroughly disinfect surfaces and ‘hot spots’ daily. Unfortunately, flu viruses can survive and remain infectious on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours, making communal resident areas especially prone to spreading disease without the proper care. Cleaning, which removes germs from surfaces with soap and water, combined with disinfecting and sanitizing is a positive step toward creating a safe and healthy living environment. Antibacterial cleaners or disinfecting wipes can help to effectively remove the virus from high-touch surfaces.
Acknowledging the high amount of risk that comes with cold and flu season in assisted living facilities is critical in order to get residents and staff to take precautionary measures seriously. From including hand sanitizer in your hand hygiene program, to promoting healthy handwashing techniques, surviving flu season starts by taking the appropriate steps to eradicate viruses from the facility before they start to spread.