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Flu-Like Viruses Can Be Deadly & Hard to Contain in Nursing Homes

In the fall & winter seasons, everyone is aware of the potential of contracting influenza, better known as the flu. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to the flu and the CDC puts people over the age of 50 and those who reside in nursing homes on the short list of those who should be given priority in case of a vaccine shortage. But what about other serious viruses that quickly spread during the cold months and have no vaccine to help prevention? Nursing homes, like hospitals and dormitories, are particularly favorable environments for viruses to spread. With residents living in close quarters and using shared spaces, everyone from the staff to fellow residents and visitors are vulnerable to illness.

RSV and HMPV – What Are They?
Just recently, Respiratory Synctial Virus or RSV, has begun popping up on the radar of nursing homes. When a healthy adult contracts the virus, symptoms are similar to those of a cold or a mild flu. When an adult with a compromised immune system falls ill with RSV, it can quickly turn from a minor cold into pneumonia and even lead to death. While there is no medication or vaccine for RSV, as with all viruses, proper hand washing and isolation are considered preventative measures.

HMPV, Human Metapneumovirus, is another respiratory virus that has symptoms similar to RSV and the common cold. Prevention is the same as RSV and there currently is not a vaccine to prevent or a medication to treat the virus.

Tennessee Dementia Ward Reports Being Hard Hit by RSV & HMPV
A study published this month in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology detailed the spread of RSV & HMPV in a Tennessee dementia ward. The consequences of not being able to contain the viruses were dire. Of 41 patients in the ward, 30 fell ill with at least one of the viruses and 5 died from complications stemming from the viruses. While the facility learned many lessons, including the importance of hand washing and isolation, the lessons came too late. Many facilities are unaware of RSV and HMPV and tend to focus on the viruses they know, such as the flu or the common cold. By testing for RSV and HMPV, further precautions can be taken to prevent passing the viruses to others.