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WHO declares H1N1 pandemic; researcher describes key LTC practices.

Cleveland -- With an estimated 28,000 cases of the H1N1 swine flu virus worldwide as of June 11, including 141 deaths in 74 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic during an emergency meeting with global health officials. It was the first declaration of a global flu pandemic in more than 40 years.


Citing sustained community transmission of swine flu in countries outside of North America, WHO said the definition of a pandemic was met, but stressed that the declaration only signifies geographic spread of a disease, not severity. The organization said the virus is mild and has yet to mutate--keeping it from becoming more deadly--and held off from making its decision for fear of triggering global panic.

WHO said it hopes the pandemic announcement will incite drug makers to quickly produce of a swine flu vaccine, and therefore cause governments to spend more money on containment of swine flu.

Lona Mody, MD, MSc, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center, warned that while the swine flu has not affected older adults and nursing home residents disproportionately, it is "crucial" for long-term care facilities to institute the following practices:

* develop protocol to limit access to the facility by visitors who are sick;

* conduct clinical surveillance to detect increases in influenza-like illness among staff and residents;

* monitor employee absenteeism;

* track transfers to and from the facility and monitor for influenza-like illness;

* update information on data to be reported to health departments;

* collaborate with public health officials, other government officials, neighboring healthcare facilities, the lay public, and the media to ensure rapid and ongoing information sharing during an influenza pandemic;

* keep facility personnel, patients, and visitors informed of the ongoing preparedness planning and the impact of the pandemic;

* develop a detailed educational plan for staff, patients, family members, and visitors;

* develop educational material in different languages, directed at different educational levels, and incorporate materials developed by the Department of Health and Human Services as well as state and local health departments; and

* plan for adequate staffing and have a nonpunitive sick policy.

Staff and administration of long-term care facilities should also have hand hygiene products easily available throughout a facility to protect residents from contamination while emphasizing appropriate cough etiquette, Mody says. Limiting visitors and ensuring a nonpunitive sick leave policy was also reemphasized with caution.

If a resident contracts any flu-like symptoms, Mody says to "isolate possible pandemic influenza patients and follow CDC recommended procedures in taking care of patients. It is absolutely crucial for nursing homes to have a person designated as a pandemic coordinator."

--Kevin Kolus, Associate Editor

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Title Annotation:QUICK HITS
Author:Kolus, Kevin
Publication:Long-Term Living
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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