Severe and Fatal Illnesses Caused by Influenza Outbreaks in Nursing Homes
Each year, the flu continues to be one of the deadliest illnesses in the United States, with the elderly affected most severely. More than 7.3 million flu cases in adults aged 65 years and older were tracked in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Many of these patients were also residents of nursing homes and care facilities responsible for following an influenza vaccine plan before the season begins in September and administering the vaccines throughout flu activity. Unfortunately, many nursing homes and long-term care facilities are not necessarily prepared for the program designed to also prevent a deadly flu outbreak among residents and staff.
Recommendations provided by the CDC for preventing transmission of influenza viruses and other infectious agents within long-term care facilities, requires a multi-faceted approach that includes the following:
- Influenza Vaccination
- Influenza Testing
- Infection Prevention and Control Measures
- Antiviral Treatment
- Antiviral Chemoprophylaxis
Since 2005, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has required nursing homes participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs to offer all residents influenza and pneumococcal vaccines. They must also document and report the results.
CMS Requires Flu Vaccinations for All Residents
According to CMS requirements, each resident is to be vaccinated unless contraindicated medically, the resident or legal representative refuses vaccination, or the vaccine is not available because of shortage. These annual treatments are essential because influenza is one of the leading vaccine-preventable infections in nursing homes, which can also help deter complications and illnesses that account for 80 percent of flu-related deaths, including but not limited to:
- Pneumonia: An internal infection that causes the small air sacs of the lungs to fill with fluid or pus. Pneumonia is the most common route to death for flu victims.
- Sepsis: Sepsis is a severe medical condition characterized by inflammation spread throughout the entire body. Sepsis happens as a result of a severe infection. According to health officials, there are four types of infections that are often linked with sepsis, including lungs (pneumonia), kidney (urinary tract infection), skin and gut. There is no single symptom of sepsis.
- Heart attack: Chances of a heart attack are increased six-fold during the first seven days after a flu infection, and heart doctors must act immediately to recognize and treat symptoms, according to a 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
CMS suggests all nursing home facilities have a flu program care strategy and flu outbreak prevention plan carried out by a fully staffed and trained department. If a plan fails due to understaffing or neglect of addressing flu-related complications, families could hold physicians and staff accountable.
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