The forgotten side of flu

Walking into Youville Home on a bright sunny fall day, you are greeted by the sight of residents sitting in the front entry, moving to a common space, greeting loved ones or moving around the halls. The entry and hallways are bustling with activity. This is their home, so residents are free to move around and go where they would like—except when there is a flu outbreak in the facility.

“In the past 12 months, Youville Home has had one influenza outbreak. When two residents on a unit are symptomatic, an outbreak is declared. At Youville Home this affects the whole site because we have staff who work throughout the building. They are not able to only work on an affected unit during their shift,” explains Jane Graff, Infection Prevention Control Nurse at Youville Home. “Unfortunately, outbreaks are fairly common in continuing care facilities. It’s part of congregate living. Families can experience a certain amount of anxiety that their loved one may get sick, and more so if the loved one becomes ill.” 

Influenza facts

The flu is often referred to as “seasonal” influenza because these viruses circulate annually in the winter season in the northern hemisphere. The timing and duration of influenza season varies. Outbreaks can happen year round now, but most often activity peaks in January.

“With influenza there are fairly restrictive rules. We have to cancel all group activities to keep the healthy, ill and contagious from mixing. There’s more risk of the virus spreading when we’re in groups,” says Jane. “Minimally an outbreak lasts eight days, depending on the type of virus. New cases extend the duration.”

John Grimes has Parkinson disease, and he’s been a resident at Youville since May 2014.

“I think it’s a shame not to have activities for the residents when there’s an outbreak because they need stimulation. John especially likes the travel log, current events and horse racing,” says Barbara Grimes, John’s wife. “I don’t understand why they can’t keep doing activities for the people who are not sick.”

When residents have tested positive or are exhibiting symptoms of influenza, they need to stay in their rooms away from other residents. Loved ones can still visit but need to make sure they are protected. This may mean wearing masks and gowns. 

“It’s hard for residents who are ill, and the ones who are well but cannot participate in group activities. They often get bored. We think about the things they like and try to make sure they have them,” says Azra Ibrahimovic, Licensed Practical Nurse on unit 1.

“John hasn’t had the flu since he’s been at Youville. We always get the flu shot. I was surprised to learn at a recent Resident Family Council meeting that residents can choose whether or not to get the flu shot,” says Barbara. “I understand that it’s a preference, but I think when you’re in a place where people are susceptible to getting sick it would be nice for everyone to get their shot.”

Azra connecting with John while he reads

“We need to remember that you and I most likely will recover from the flu. The flu affects the elderly differently and can be very dangerous for them. We have seen people die from complications of influenza such as pneumonia,” says Azra.

“If you haven’t experienced the flu, you don’t know how nasty it can be,” says Jane. “It’s important to keep in mind that you may not need the flu shot for yourself, but your getting the flu shot helps the elderly and children around you. Getting the flu shot may help keep someone else from spending time in the emergency room or possibly being admitted to the hospital.”

Clarifying what is the flu, a cold or stomach "flu"

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