An aged care facility on the New South Wales south coast has been in lockdown since the June long weekend following an influenza outbreak.
Five residents of the nursing home were taken to hospital with the flu, and 15 remain in isolation.
Tragically, three residents died in hospital and a fourth resident died at the facility from the flu.
According to a report from the ABC, 20 staff have also been diagnosed with the flu, putting pressure on staff already stretched managing the outbreak.
The nursing home’s manager told the ABC, families have been asked not to visit. Staff have also been encouraged to receive the flu vaccination, but while it is not mandatory, they can’t be forced to.
Flu season earlier than usual
Robert Booy, senior professorial fellow at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, told HelloCare the flu season arrived “dramatically” earlier than usual this year.
“The hope is it’s plateauing earlier too,” he said, with the number of cases in New South Wales not rising in the last two weeks.
Prof Booy said this year’s flu season, though early, is not particularly severe.
“It’s nowhere near as bad as two years ago,” he said.
Prof Booys said so far this year there have been approximately 100 flu outbreaks, whereas two years ago there were approximately 500 outbreaks.
With signs this season is already plateauing, Prof Booys predicts there might be only 200 outbreaks in total this season.
Should it be compulsory for aged care staff to be vaccinated against the flu?
AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, told HelloCare GPs are diligent in ensuring their patients are immunised.
“All GPs have very robust policies and procedures around ensuring target patient groups are immunised against influenza, especially residents of aged care facilities.
“Where the facility has a preferred list of visiting GPs, they would be proactive in doing so, and would also be cognisant of the need to do so.”
He stopped short of recommending that all it be compulsory for all aged care workers to be immunised against the flu.
“There is plenty of opportunity to be vaccinated at the local GP,” he said.
“There needs to be appropriate education and resourcing and information to all the staff explaining why they would not want to be vaccinated when they are at higher risk of getting influenza in a residential aged care facility,” he said.
Research finds poor flu management practices in aged care facilities
A recent study found evidence of poor flu management practices in Australian aged care facilities.
The study revealed most aged care facilities aren’t administering antivirals for flu effectively, and in some cases are taking 8.5 days to give the first antiviral after the first case of flu is identified, rather than within the recommended 24 hours.
The research recommended improvements be made to early outbreak recognition, increased rates of staff vaccination, and continued collaboration with public health services to support the management and control of flu outbreaks in aged care facilities.
In May, the new chief clinical advisor for the Australian Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, Dr Melanie Wroth, released an influenza alert, encouraging those over the age of 65 to have annual flu vaccinations.
“Individuals who have contact with older people… should also be aware of… the importance of vaccination for themselves and others,” the alert said.
Flu cases have “stabilised”: Surveillance Report
According to the latest Influenza Surveillance Weekly Report available from the NSW Department of Health, during the week of 23 June, the number of confirmed flu notifications rose from the previous week, but in the Illawarra Shoalhaven region, where the facility in question is situated, notifications were steady.
The report states, “Influenza activity remains high across NSW but activity appears to have stabilised in some local health districts.
“It is too early to tell if influenza activity has peaked.”
Across NSW, 8,203 presented at hospitals with flu-like symptoms, and 4,617 confirmed flu cases were reported.
This compares with the previous week, when there were 8,995 hospital presentation with flu-like symptoms, and 3,796 confirmed flu cases.