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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.

Prepare

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.

Prevent

Vaccination program requirements

Annual vaccination is the most effective way to reduce the impact of the flu in the community, especially in aged care homes. To help prevent and stop the spread of flu in aged care, aged care providers must have a vaccine program in place. This is a requirement to comply with the Aged Care Quality Standards.

Australian Government-subsidised providers of residential aged care are required to offer staff and volunteers access to annual influenza vaccinations at the provider's cost. Further information regarding the responsibilities of aged care providers is available on the Australian Government Department of Health website

The Chief Health Officer public health directions require that from 30 May 2021 everyone entering a residential aged care facility needs to be vaccinated against influenza. This applies to staff, visitors, health practitioners, volunteers and others such as cleaners, tradesman, gardeners and maintenance staff. Influenza vaccination protects staff and provides an additional layer of protection for high-risk residents.

Record vaccination evidence of staff and residents in a register that is current and easily accessible. Providers are encouraged to maintain records of influenza immunisation status of visitors and other people entering the facility.

Residents of residential aged care facilities are at much higher risk of complications of severe influenza so vaccination for all residents is important to protect them and others.

Residents have the right to refuse vaccination.

Promote good hygiene

Influenza virus is primarily transmitted by respiratory droplets and by hand. At the beginning of the season educate staff, residents, volunteers and visiting family members about preventing the spread of influenza:

  • adopt regular hand hygiene using 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 in the bin and wash hands immediately after use.

Watch a short video (hand washing for hygiene) which shows you the correct way to wash your hands.

Identify

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.

Manage

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.

Influenza and COVID-19

Influenza is not the same illness as COVID-19. There are separate vaccines available to protect individuals against influenza and COVID-19. Both vaccinations are recommended for residents, staff and visitors entering residential facilities. These two vaccines can be given 7 days apart. For further advice please visit the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) website.

Further information on COVID-19 and aged care can be found at Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for people in residential aged care facilities and visitors

Last updated: 16 June 2021