At PACE Chattanooga, we have always been vigilant about influenza because it is a serious threat to the life and health of our participants. Almost since our inception we have been a surveillance site for the Centers for Disease Control and Surveillance and are the only geriatric site in the state of Tennessee. We partner with the state and federal government in the prevention, early detection and containment of influenza.
While it affects all age groups, influenza causes more hospitalizations and death in the elderly because of the effects of age, medications and other diseases on the immune system and the ability to fight influenza if it is contracted. Contrary to popular belief, influenza is a year-round disease, though it becomes more prevalent in the winter months, presumably due to closer indoor person-to-person contact and the effects of dried air on the membranes of the nose and mouth.
The first line of defense is influenza vaccination. In October we immunize all our participants and, for many years now, have required all our employees to receive influenza vaccine. Since influenza is spread by touch as well as coughing and sneezing, we encourage frequent hand washing. This year we are using a new high-potency vaccine to protect our participants. We also offer influenza vaccination to the caregivers of our participants. The CDC now recommends that all adults and children receive the flu shot every year, therefore family members can help protect themselves and their elderly loved ones by receiving flu shots.
The second defense is early diagnosis and treatment of influenza. The CDC definition of influenza-like illness is a temperature of 100 ° F and (a sore throat or a cough). Since older patients may not mount the fever and symptom response of younger patients, we may test patients who do not quite meet these criteria. We treat patients whose tests are positive with an antiviral drug. At PACE we even treat those whose office tests are negative, since these quick tests are not sensitive enough and the consequences of untreated influenza are too great for a vulnerable patient population.
The final defense is containment if, despite our best efforts, an epidemic does occur. We will treat patients with influenza in their homes or facilities away from PACE and preventatively treat participants who have been in contact with influenza patients. So, as you can see, we take influenza very seriously at PACE. So should you. Get yourself immunized and encourage your family members to do so too.
Alexian Brothers PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) is a nursing home alternative that provides home care, adult day care and medical care to Hamilton County residents over the age of 55.
Dr. Desbiens is the medical director of Alexian Brothers PACE in Chattanooga. He holds a B.M.S. from Dartmouth Medical School and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He has obtained certifications in Family Practice, Critical Care Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Internal Medicine.