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What we can learn about flu prevention from the outbreak of coronoavirus

If you’re going into public spaces or the subway, you can be exposed to people with the virus so wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water frequently, carry hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your face.

With the outbreak of coronavirus around the world, there are lessons that we as family members, seniors, caregivers, and citizens of Toronto can learn about preventing the spread of respiratory and other viruses.  Respiratory illnesses prefer cold, dry weather so late fall and winter are ripe for seasonal flu.

According to Dr. Fabio Varlese, CEO at The Toronto Clinic in Yorkville and Chief of Staff at Runnymede Healthcare Centre, the coronavirus is a respiratory illness with symptoms that can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing and it is spread readily by person-to-person contact.  Like the flu and other more benign respiratory illnesses, symptoms can be mild, moderate or very serious requiring acute hospitalization.

So in a climate like Toronto, where the influenza virus is a reality every year, what can we do to prevent the spread of flu?

“You have to be mindful of where you are and what you’re doing,” says Dr. Varlese.  “If you’re going into public spaces or the subway, you can be exposed to people with the virus so wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water frequently, carry hand sanitizer, and avoid touching your face.”

Dr. Varlese adds, “Vaccinations for the very young and older adults are especially important.  And for older adults there are actually two vaccinations – one for pneumonia usually every 5 years, and the other for the flu on a yearly basis.”

Outbreaks of respiratory illness and flu with seniors can lead to quarantine, particularly if they live in retirement residences or are in hospital or in long term care.  This can result in social isolation which may compound the effects of the illness, and can lead to loneliness and other ailments.  Dr. Varlese advises families and caregivers to look for creative ideas to enable connectivity.  For example, there are now devices available to enable real, social interaction with family and friends (like Facetime or other visual platforms).

Home Instead Senior Care, a leading home care organization that cares for older individuals with chronic conditions, takes precautions throughout the year to ensure that their caregivers and clients are protected and prepared.  During the coronavirus threat they were relying on daily updates from credible sources such as Home Care Ontario, Toronto Public Health, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Health Canada.

Bruce Mahony, Executive Director of Home Instead Senior Care in Toronto, says that there are many simple precautions that we can all take.  “We are very concerned about the spread of viruses because we are serving a compromised population due to age and health condition.  We ask our caregivers and clients to let us know if they’ve had close contact with someone who has flu-like symptoms, and to check with their health practitioner if they are feeling unwell.”

Home Instead Senior Care has protocols in place for the containment of infections for both caregivers and clients:

  • Flu shots to reduce the occurrence of seasonal respiratory viruses;
  • Protective supplies (such as gloves, face masks and protective eyewear) are being utilized when required;
  • Declaring exposure if they have symptoms;
  • Remaining at home when sick;
  • Handwashing frequently with soap;
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze;
  • Maintaining personal hygiene and hygiene in the home of the senior for whom they’re caring;
  • Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces regularly

With a few simple prevention measures, we can all help prevent the spread of flu and viruses to our most vulnerable neighbours in Toronto.

Mary Ann Freedman is a communications consultant with over 25 years’ experience working with organizations who serve 50+ adults.

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