Anatomy of an Outbreak

agh_logoby Mary-Ellen Harris

An outbreak of an infection in a Long-Term Care facility is a very challenging and potentially dangerous time for residents, families, and staff. An outbreak is when the usual occurrence of disease is exceeded. A SUSPECT outbreak is when there are two suspected cases of infectious gastro (vomiting/diarrhea) or respiratory (cough/fever) disease. A CONFIRMED outbreak is when there are three or more confirmed cases within 48 hours.

Early identification of an outbreak is essential since precautions and therapeutic interventions can prevent the spread of infection and decrease the consequences particularly for a very frail, immuno-compromised population. Early collection and testing of a specimen(s) is very important.

There are several ways to control the spread of infection. Nursing staffing levels are increased, housekeeping staff carry out enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of equipment and surfaces (e.g. bedrails, toilet handles, bathrooms, commodes) and dietary staff take special measures to prevent the spread of disease.

Any visitor or staff entering an area where someone has been ill or to care for an ill person must use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Gloves, gowns, masks, and even eye protection may be required.

During an outbreak, symptomatic persons are isolated (in their own rooms) until 48 hours after their last trace of symptoms. Communal meetings or gatherings are restricted to prevent unnecessary exposure. Non-urgent patient/resident appointments are rescheduled. All of this is very disruptive for residents who look forward to visits, social gatherings and outings.

How can you help?

Know when you are sick. Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea are obvious. However, a runny nose, dry cough, sinus headache, and body aches are just as important. Minor symptoms in an otherwise healthy person is the body fighting a virus, yet that same virus spread to a resident can result in a life-threatening infection. Even a “cold” can have very serious health consequences for others.

Hand Hygiene is the single most important way to prevent the spread of any virus, parasite, or bacteria. Alcohol based hand rub is preferred but soap and water also work.

We work hard to provide a safe environment for our residents. Please do your part by not visiting if you are sick and washing your hands every time you enter the building.

Mary-Ellen Harris is the Assistant Director of Care at Fairview Manor and Manager, Rosamond Unit