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Australian flu fears hit UK care homes

October 3, 2017

The UK’s care home sector is bracing itself for the onslaught of a potentially deadly flu that has already wreaked havoc in Australia and could easily travel across to Europe this winter.

In fact, according to an article in the Daily Express Newspaper, Professor Robert Dingwall, a public health expert at Nottingham Trent University, has said that this is the most serious flu outbreak since the 1968 pandemic that killed over 1 million people worldwide.

That is because most of the cases in Australia have been the result of the influenza A strain H3N2, the most severe strain of influenza.

According to Australian government data, 93,711 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu were reported to its National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System by 18th August. That is more than double the number of infections compared to the same period last year.

Although the Australian flu has tragically claimed the lives of several young people, including a 30-year-old father and an eight-year-old girl, notification rates have been highest in adults aged 80 or over.

In the state of Victoria alone, 95 people have died, many of whom were at care facilities for the elderly. In one Victoria nursing home, eight residents aged between 70 and 94 died as a result of an outbreak, whilst a further 100 people fell ill at another retirement village.

Why is this a problem for UK care homes?

Unfortunately, although Australia may seem far away from UK shores, it is quite common for influenza to jump between Southern and Northern Hemispheres during our winter months.

Worryingly, when it comes to flu, elderly residents in care homes are already a high-risk group for two reasons.

Firstly, they are at greater risk from the complications of flu than younger adults. Secondly, by living in a care home, they are in close proximity to each other, meaning there is a greater likelihood of flu spreading from person to person.

Easily transmitted through coughs, colds and contaminated surfaces, influenza can spread rapid amongst care home residents. Not only can this be hugely distressing for any infected residents, it can also lead to the care home having to close its doors to visitors until the outbreak is over.

Unfortunately, influenza generally tends to be a big problem in care homes during most winters. According to Public Health England, from week 40 in 2016 to week 14 in 2017, 78.3% of 1,055 acute respiratory outbreaks occurred in care homes, rising from 75% in the previous winter.

Over that period, a total of 1,064 Intensive Care Unit/High Dependency Unit admissions of confirmed influenza were reported across the UK, including 133 deaths.

The additional threat of ‘Australian flu’ hitting the UK is just another burden on a care sector that has already seen a rise in the incidence of flu over recent years.

Clearly, with the growing risk of particularly nasty outbreaks, it is vital for care home staff to be prepared this winter.

Preparing for Australian flu

Unfortunately, if only two or more residents contract Australian flu in your care home, this will be defined as an ‘outbreak’, at which point you will have a lot of work ahead of you to try and minimise its spread.

In fact, you will need to follow a detailed influenza action plan that involves:

• informing the relevant authorities,
• restricting the movement of affected residents and staff and
• implementing a rigorous cleaning regime throughout your care home

What’s more, even if you do follow this action plan rigorously, you will still not be allowed to declare the Australian flu outbreak over until seven days after the onset of the last case.

As a result, it is clearly best if you can try and minimise the risk of an isolated incident of Australian flu spreading in the first place.

With this in mind, infection control specialist, Cairn Care, has put together a factsheet on the steps you can take to prevent or control an outbreak of influenza in your care home.

To request your free factsheet: Tackling Influenza in Your Care Home just email info@cairncare.co.uk or call 0845 226 0185.