Influenza and Aged Care

This article is an excerpt that is taken from the monthly update sent to members of Infection Control NZ.  The article in whole has also been published in the Aged care Association newsletter.

There is a chill in the air and winter is definitely on its way.  The winter months herald warm clothes, cold crisp mornings, more time spent indoors and influenza season.   For those of us who work in aged care we’ve been preparing for influenza season for a while now, the Influenza vaccination became available in March, and most facilities will have now vaccinated their residents and hopefully their staff too. The contents of outbreak boxes will need to checked and restocked as necessary, and education sessions targeting staff, residents and even relatives on Influenza may be scheduled. The focus of this month’s Infection Control update is Influenza, looking at prevention, infection control and outbreak management.

 

elderly man coughing

What is Influenza?

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory viral infection seen most commonly in winter, with the highest rates of infection occurring in July and August.  The elderly are very vulnerable to significant illness and serious complications from Influenza, and in this age group influenza can result in hospitalisation or even death.

Signs and Symptoms of Influenza

Residents often present with a cough, sore throat, breathing difficulties, myalgia (muscle pain), fatigue, rigors or chills, headache and sometimes fever (although in the elderly fever may not be present). Pneumonia may develop directly from influenza infection or from secondary bacterial infection.

The worst symptoms usually last about 5 days, but coughing can last up to 2–3 weeks.

 

person sick in bed

Mode of Transmission

Influenza is spread via Droplet and Contact Transmission

Influenza is spread from person to person by inhalation of infectious droplets produced while talking, coughing and sneezing.   These infectious droplets can spread up to 2 metres when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or are inhaled into the lungs, causing infection.  The virus can also be transmitted via air in confined spaces, for example if you are in an elevator with someone who coughs or sneezes.

Transmission can also occur through direct and indirect contact.  The influenza virus may persist on hard surfaces for 1-2 days, particularly in cold conditions.  Often a person with influenza will frequently touch their nose or eyes, transferring the virus onto their hands, they then touch other surfaces – rails, door handles, bathroom doors contaminating them with the flu.   When you touch a surface with the flu virus on it, and then touch your own mouth or nose, you can transmit influenza to yourself.

droplet transmission

Infectious period

Those sick with influenza may shed the virus for up to 24 hours before the onset of symptoms and until 7 days after the onset of symptoms.

Patients are considered no longer infectious if 24 hours have elapsed since the resolution of fever, provided either: they have received 72 hours of anti-influenza medication; OR

5 days have elapsed since onset of respiratory symptoms (CDC)

The rest of the article is available to members of Infection Control NZ.  To discuss membership please contact Amanda at amandaicnz@gmail.com or phone 021 141 0557. Alternatively click on the membership link on this website.

Have a great day

Amanda

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