Influenza in residential care facilities
Influenza is a serious issue in residential care facilities both because of the vulnerability of residents and the environment of communal living which facilitates the spread of respiratory viruses. Influenza season is generally during the winter months, however outbreaks can and do occur outside the season, particularly in tropical Queensland.
Facilities should regularly review their influenza policies and outbreak plans. Guidelines providing national best practice in preparing for, preventing, identifying and managing outbreaks of influenza in residential care are provided to assist residential care services.
Vaccination program requirements
From 1 May 2018, Australian Government-subsidised providers of residential aged care are required to have in place an influenza vaccination program. More information is available about the influenza vaccination program.
Facilities should aim for at least 95% vaccination coverage in both residents and staff, and encourage regular visitors and volunteers to be vaccinated.
Record vaccination evidence of staff and residents in a register that is current and easily accessible. Public health units will need this information if an outbreak occurs.
Vaccinating staff, while protecting them against influenza, also reduces the likelihood of its introduction and spread within a facility.
Vaccinating residents is effective in reducing mortality and hospitalisation in the aged care setting.
Promote good hygiene
Influenza virus is primarily transmitted by respiratory droplets and also by hands. At the beginning of the season educate staff, residents, volunteers and visiting family members about preventing the spread of influenza:
- regular hand hygiene with alcohol based hand rub, or soap and water
- if using soap and water, dry hands thoroughly with a single-use towel
- encourage residents to cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue
- dispose of used tissues immediately.
Watch a short video which shows you the correct way to wash your hands.
Recognise the signs of influenza
Influenza is not always easily recognised in the elderly. The elderly do not always have typical flu-like symptoms such as fever, and may present with symptoms like increased levels of confusion or worsening of medical conditions such as heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. More information is available about the common signs and symptoms of influenza in the elderly.
The Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Public Health Management of Influenza Outbreaks in Residential Care Facilities in Australia are provided to assist residential care services by providing best practice information for the prevention and management of influenza outbreaks in residential care facilities.
Three or more people (residents or staff) with influenza-like illness in a three day period is a potential outbreak and the public health unit must be notified. Public health units can assist with advice on investigation and management of potential outbreaks.
Contact your local public health unit for advice if an influenza outbreak is suspected.
Control the spread of influenza
If an outbreak occurs or is suspected:
- keep ill residents in single rooms or see the guidelines for other options
- use dedicated staff for these residents
- ensure the appropriate use of personal protective equipment by staff
- ensure adequate stocks of equipment are readily available
- exclude staff with influenza like illness while they are infectious (at least 5 days after illness onset or until symptom free, whichever is longer)
- increase cleaning frequency, especially for frequently touched surfaces
- restrict resident movement into and within the facility
- keep visitors to a minimum.