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Nursing homes fight back flu

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 1/12/2018

Jan. 12--TUPELO -- Area nursing homes are fighting to keep the flu at bay.

"This year is much worse than usual," said Teresa Baker, corporate clinical director for Mississippi Methodist Senior Services, which has 11 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, including Traceway Retirement Community in Tupelo.

Mississippi is one of 26 states seeing high rates of flu. Nationally, 5.8 percent of people seeking care at doctors' offices during the last week of 2017 had flu-like symptoms. In Mississippi, the average was 12.1 percent during the same week.

Nursing home staff members are urging visitors to stay away if they have any flu symptoms.

"If they're sick, please stay home and come back when you are well because they are so vulnerable," said Christina Hall, director of clinical services for Tupelo-based Community Eldercare Services, which has skilled nursing facilities in Fulton, Booneville, Iuka, West Point and Bruce.

For most healthy adults and children, the flu is a miserable inconvenience that lasts a week or two. For the vulnerable elders in a nursing home, it is potentially life-threatening.

The people who need skilled nursing care are by definition medically frail. They are coping with advanced stages of chronic diseases like congestive heart failure, diabetes and COPD, Baker said. Their immune systems are compromised, and their reserves are low.

"Their bodies just can't handle both at the same time," Baker said. "It can be devastating."

For that reason, nursing homes start preparing for the flu season in the fall by encouraging flu shots for staff and residents. They encourage good infection-control practices among staff and visitors. As the flu season starts, they post signs to remind visitors to stay away if they are feeling sick.

Nursing homes are required to notify the state health department if they have two or more flu cases. When there are multiple cases, the health department can recommend a quarantine for the facility to prevent the spread of the flu. During an official quarantine, nursing homes don't admit new residents and allow only essential visitors, Hall said. They keep all of the residents isolated in their rooms and have stepped up surveillance to catch any new cases quickly.

The quarantines are not unusual during flu season.

"We see (quarantines) every flu season," said Liz Sharlot, state health department communications director. "The Mississippi State Department of Health works with these homes to prevent further outbreak -- infection control, other recommendations and lab support."

Community Eldercare has been able to avoid large outbreaks in its 20 nursing homes, but it had to implement quarantines at two of its facilities, Hall said. Those quarantines have since been lifted.

Methodist Senior Services has avoided any official quarantines, but the staff has been isolating cases as they occur, Baker said.

"We've been able to keep it contained so far," Baker said.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

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(c)2018 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)

Visit the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.) at www.djournal.com

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