updated 12/23/2003 12:25:39 PM ET 2003-12-23T17:25:39

A brightly colored sign flanked by holiday decorations tells visitors at the front door of the Maple Crest Care Center: If you have flu-like symptoms, please do not come any further.

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None of the 134 residents in the nursing home has been hit with the flu, and administrator Mary Stroud wants it to stay that way, especially during the holidays.

“This is our critical time because we have so many people coming in, but if we take the right precautions and people use common sense, we hope it will continue to go as well as it has,” Stroud says.

Like many nursing homes across the country, Maple Crest has taken precautions to protect the elderly from the flu, including stepping up handwashing and overall sanitation.

Older people, who generally have weakening immune systems, are at high-risk for developing severe flu complications. And most flu deaths occur among the elderly.

“Not spreading the germs is what it’s about,” Stroud said.

Near Phoenix at Desert Cove Nursing Center, executive director David Starrett said 95 percent of the nearly 120 residents got the flu shot, and none has been diagnosed with the flu.

Risks from children
Still, he said his center is taking steps to keep away visitors with the flu.

“Especially young children who typically are exposed to that more frequently, so that they’re not running around inside,” he said. “And we’re asking anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms to not enter the doors of the building.”

Still, no events have been canceled and Christmas carolers have not been kept away.

At Maple Crest in Omaha, children still visit from the school across the street to do crafts and sing for the residents.

Stroud said such activities are too important to the residents to cancel — even more important during the holidays.

She said the center makes sure teachers and students alike are careful.

“People are conscientious, so we haven’t had any issues with that either,” she said.

Test your IQAt least 92 percent of the residents at Maple Crest were vaccinated early in the flu season, Stroud said, along with most of the staff.

In the Northglenn Heights assisted living center in a Denver suburb, the executive director said the flu season had not been worse there this year — even though Colorado was the early focal point of concern because of the flu deaths of several children.

The director, Juanita Audre, said special attention is being paid to sanitation.

“I think we’re just really watching our infection control and being sure our hot water is good on our dishes so that they are sanitized — and the silverware — because that’s how that stuff would get passed,” she said.

In Omaha, Stroud acknowledged this flu season has been a bit unnerving. But beyond flu shots and extra handwashing, administrators haven’t seen the need to change routines.

Resident Helen Ellison, 67, was skeptical the flu season could be as bad as everyone hears it to be. She had her flu shot and isn’t afraid.

“If you believe it’s bad, it will be,” she said. “But I ain’t worried a bit about it.”

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