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Senior centers on edge after flu-related deaths skyrocket

DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) – There’s been extra vigilance around places like nursing homes and senior apartments this flu season, especially since older people are more susceptible to the outbreak.

Since Oct. 1, 77 Iowans have died from influenza-related illnesses, a sharp increase from the 43 influenza-related deaths last week, according to a recently released report from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The report notes that the figure is an underestimation of influenza-related deaths because it can take weeks for an official cause of death to be determined.

Iowa health officials say no children have died, and seniors make up the majority of hospitalizations for influenza.

Joyce Smith, who lives at Wesley Acres, said she hasn’t gotten the flu because she drinks plenty of water and washes her hands regularly.

She said staff at her senior living facility have been taking extra precautions to deal with the rapidly spreading virus.

“You really have to be diligent,” Smith said.

Brandon Kranovich, director of Health Center Operations at Wesley Acres, said the facility hasn’t had a case of the flu since the season began.

“We’ve been very fortunate this season,” Kranovich said. “We push fluids and hydration and healthy eating. We keep them active and mobile.”

He said family members who have flu or cold symptoms are asked to keep their distance, and the staff provide masks and gloves for whoever needs it. There are also hand sanitizer stations at all of the exits and entrances.

“I think we’re always on our toes,” Kranovich said.

Jeff Brock, a pharmacy specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, said seniors are bearing the brunt of the flu epidemic because vaccines don’t work well in older patients.

“As we get older, our immune system doesn’t react to vaccines as well as when we were younger,” Brock said. “The problem with nursing homes is that the patients in there are generally elderly; they have a lot of other diseases, and they are a very susceptible population.”

Sometimes patients can get a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, which Brock said could be the “ultimate demise” for some people.

Health experts said if a loved one feels sick, they should stay at home and plan to visit another day.

Wesley Acres staff members say they have protocols in place to ensure sick relatives and staff aren’t making residents sick.

Brock said he doesn’t see flu season ending anytime soon. It’s not too late to get the flu shot, though, and he recommends that senior citizens ask for a special formulation designed for them.

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