This year’s flu season has been particularly hard on Victoria’s elderly. The flu, or influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection, spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes.

Statistics from The Department of Health and Human Services have revealed that 78 aged care residents have died due to the influenza virus.

This is more than twice the number of aged care residents that died during last year’s flu season, where there were 36 fatal cases.

Overall, there have been 222 respiratory outbreaks this year compared with 117 for the same period last year.

Because of the close confinement of nursing homes with shared staff and common eating/social areas, flu outbreaks are highly susceptible in aged care.  

In 2015, influenza was the 12th most common cause of death, with the average victim being 88.6 years old.

Challenges with Vaccinations

One of the challenges with this year’s strain of influenza is that it has mutated in such a way that it is immune to some vaccinations. This means that even people who have been immunized are still at risk of contracting the virus.

Kanta Subbarao, director of the World Health Organisation’s Melbourne influenza research centre, told the Herald Sun that 70 per cent of cases have been the A/H3N2 strain.

There were four strains of flu in this year’s vaccine — A/H3N2, AH1 and two types of B strains.

“Even at the best of times vaccines are not as effective in the elderly as they are in young adults.”

Despite that, it is still recommended that everyone, who are able, should get the flu shot.

Preventing the Spread of the Flu

Victoria’s Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton has warned that prevention and good hygiene are crucial this season. Dr Sutton advises these 5 strategies to avoid the spread of the flu:

  1. Good hand hygiene is strongly recommended to visitors to assist in controlling any spread of flu.
  2. This is a timely reminder to all visitors that washing their hands with soap or hand gel before visiting loved ones in aged care or hospital is extremely important.
  3. If you are sick you should avoid visiting loved ones in an aged care facility or hospital.
  4. If you are unwell with a cough or a cold, remember to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put the tissue straight in the bin.
  5. You should always wash your hands immediately after sneezing, coughing or going to the toilet with soap and running water and dry your hands thoroughly.

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