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Abilene nursing home staff fighting the flu for residents

By Ariana Garza, Weekend Anchor/Crime & Courts Reporter, agarza@ktxs.com
Published On: Jan 31 2013 08:02:47 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 31 2013 09:56:23 AM CST
ABILENE, Texas -

When flu season hits, nursing home workers are prepared to play close attention to their elderly residents, who are more susceptible to catching and succumbing to the flu. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people older than 65 are more likely to have major complications with the flu due to their weakened immune systems.

That is why local nursing home staff act quickly when they notice their residents are suffering from fevers, coughs and aches.

“As soon as somebody starts showing signs or symptoms of the flu, we immediately do a flu swab,” Rebecca Johnston, director of admissions at Northern Oaks Living & Rehabilitation, said.

Though this flu season has been called an epidemic, Johnston said Northern Oaks has only had three of its 86 seniors test positive for the flu in recent weeks.

Despite the low number of recent cases at Northern Oaks, Johnston said nursing staff can never take the flu lightly.

Each senior who tests positive is quickly isolated from their roommate and the rest of the community and put on medication.

“They are pretty much bound to their room, they eat in their room--if they're doing therapy, we send the therapist to their room, they do in-room activities,” Johnston said.

Friends and family are warned to refrain from visiting nursing homes if they are showing symptoms of the flu.

“[Seniors] have a weaker immune system so it can lead to other forms of illnesses--go to bronchitis or pneumonia, it kind of just brings their immune system even lower,” Johnston said.

Dr. Sandy Hazelip, medical director of Abilene Regional Medical Center’s Senior Healthcare Center said seniors’ pre-existing health conditions can further complicate the flu.

“Once they do catch the flu, seniors are more susceptible to having a worse case not only because of the decreased immune system but because of comorbidites that seniors have and those diseases--those comorbitities--are things like chronic lung problems, heart problems, diabetes," Hazelip said. 

Seniors and nursing staff are told time and time again to keep their hands clean and to be mindful of potential symptoms.

According to the CDC, other high risk groups for having complications with the flu include children under the age of 5, pregnant women, American Indians and Alaskan Natives.