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Following best practice limits the spread
of Seasonal Influenza, but it’s still a
tough experience for all.

Jan 24th, 2018

Have you ever wondered what happens behind closed doors when there’s an outbreak of Seasonal Influenza? Thanks to Points West Living Peace River, we’re able to share the step by step protocol followed during a recent outbreak. We also get a hint of the collective effort and personal suffering such an event can cause.

Signs and symptoms

In mid-December when care partners saw a few residents coming down with the symptoms of Seasonal Influenza, they took quick action. “The Medical Health Officer for Northern Alberta gave us the prerequisite signs to look for,” says Tamara Graham, LPN, “Elevated temperature, runny nose, coughing, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. If there are 2-3 residents exhibiting signs and symptoms, we notify the homecare case manager to these residents, explain the situation and troubleshoot. Then and we start the process of isolating these residents.”

Isolation

“The resident has to stay in his or her room, meals are sent in served in disposable containers. The room is cleaned daily. Care partners entering the room must follow contact precautions for isolated residents; gowns, masks, eye protection, and gloves; and follow specific procedures to administer care.” Some residents are chosen by home care case management and the public health department to have nasal swabs to confirm the strain, and the attending physician implements the administration of the antiviral TAMIFLU (Oseltamivir).

Cleaning is stepped up throughout the building, with touch surfaces getting particular attention.

All social activities are postponed, visiting is discouraged except in special circumstances, and then the visitor needs to take the same contact precautions as employee care partners.

“Basically, everyone is isolated,” says Tamara.

Emotional cost of isolation

It can take three to five days for symptoms of Seasonal Influenza to manifest, and in that time the contagion can spread. It did so at PWL Peace River, and at its peak, 13 residents and a handful of employee care partners were laid low with the illness.

“It was really, really sad,” says Tamara. “For those who were sick, particularly in memory care, the isolation is the worst. They are confined to a small space and not sure what is going on. We start to see manifestations of loneliness. Their social events are such a highlight. For us, we know it’s temporary, but for them, the day is never ending, so we have to explain constantly. We would offer what emotional support we could.”

“In consultation with home care, residents who were symptom-free could leave with family members,” says Tamara. “Most of our asymptomatic residents went with family members for Christmas Day, and about 8-10 were able to stay with family a little longer.”

All better

The outbreak was officially over in the first week of January when everyone had been symptom-free for 72 hours. Tamara has nothing but praise for the care partners who worked with her throughout the outbreak. “They had to put in the hours, but they were cheerful,” she says. “They went above and beyond to ensure a sense of normalcy continued despite the outbreak.” Eventually, Tamara herself got ill even though she had the flu shot last fall. “You have to be selfless in some situations because you realize that people are dependent on you.”

“Everything is back to normal, and everything is the best,” she adds. “And we are making some big plans to make up for missing Christmas.”

Photo: LPN Tamara Graham at PWL Peace River

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