Flu outbreaks hit 21 aged-care facilities across Tasmania

Six elderly residents died in a single influenza outbreak at a North-West nursing home in the last two weeks of August, the acting director of public health has confirmed.

A total of 21 influenza outbreaks have been reported in aged-care facilities in Tasmania this flu season, with nine outbreaks still monitored.

On Saturday night, the Tasmanian Health Service further confirmed an outbreak had hit the Beaconsfield District Health Service.

Nine patients and an unconfirmed number of staff were confirmed as infected, and the service said infection protocols were in place.

The public has been urged not to visit the centre unless “absolutely necessary”.

THS Executive Director of Operations North and North West Eric Daniels said additional cleaning staff have been deployed to help contain infection.

"As part of infection control measures, patients are being isolated to stop further spread,” he said.

"Staff at the facility are doing all they can to manage this outbreak. Influenza and respiratory illnesses are common occurrences in the community at this time of year, and can have serious health complications for people who are elderly or frail and already suffering other conditions." 

Public Health’s Dr Scott McKeown said every Tasmanian flu season caused a number of outbreaks in the state’s aged-care facilities.

“The last couple of years it has been well over 10 per year and each year there have been a number of deaths,” Dr McKeown said.

“There have been other deaths in outbreaks in aged-care facilities … when you have a nursing home that has a significant number of residents then you would normally expect to see a number, unfortunately, die over the months of the year, and when an outbreak occurs, you would unfortunately expect to see a couple more.”

The Strathdevon aged-care facility in Latrobe, run by Uniting AgeWell, was where the six deaths occurred.

The organisation confirmed there was an Influenza A outbreak from August 9 to 16, which was cleared on August 30.

“All precautions to prevent an outbreak ahead of the flu season were taken, with 95 per cent of Strathdevon’s 37 residents receiving a flu vaccination,” a statement from Uniting AgeWell said.

All staff were also offered a free vaccine which saw “a large number” immunised.

Despite the precautions, 31 of the residents were affected during the outbreak period, with nine residents admitted to hospital for further treatment.

“All health, hygiene and safety precautions were taken to minimise the spread of infection during the outbreak, including the use of personal protective equipment, isolation of residents, restriction of visitors and unwell staff instructed to remain at home,” the statement said.

The six who died all had underlying conditions, according to the aged-care provider.

Each year in Australia more than 3000 deaths occur due to flu and most were the elderly or people with underlying chronic conditions, Dr McKeown said.

“It is important to understand that nursing homes are places where elderly people with chronic conditions live at the last stages of their life and it’s those underlying conditions … that puts them at risk of the flu,” he said.

 Dr McKeown said avoiding others when ill could reduce the effects of influenza in the community.

This story Deaths from flu prompt warning first appeared on The Examiner.