Outbreaks of infectious diseases such as influenza (flu) & gastroenteritis (gastro) occur often in the general community. Where people live together, such as boarding schools, cruise ships and aged care homes, such outbreaks can be quiet common and difficult to control.
Older people can be particularly vulnerable to illness and complications from these diseases. Flu and gastro can be life threatening for people living in aged care homes.
As few as two or three residents becoming ill in an aged care home can be considered the start of an outbreak of flu or gastro. This is because these diseases are contagious and can spread quickly.
For some infectious diseases, even one case is viewed as an outbreak. Homes must act immediately to control the spread of infectious disease and protect other residents, staff and visitors from becoming ill.
In most states and territories, aged care homes are asked to report an outbreak of flu, gastro and other specific infectious diseases to their local public health unit. The unit will then monitor the outbreak and advise the home in managing the outbreak if required.
Gastroenteritis is a highly infectious disease that causes nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Outbreaks of gastro are common in aged care homes and can be difficult to control. Gastro is spread through faeces and vomit and can spread very quickly from person to person, often through unwashed hands.
Contaminated surfaces, bedding, clothing and food can also spread the disease.
There are many causes of gastro including certain viruses that spread from person to person and bacteria from contaminated food or water.
Illness from gastro usually lasts 1 to 2 days but may last longer in elderly people.
The elderly are also at high risk of becoming dehydrated – loss of fluids – when ill with gastro. Dehydration can be very dangerous, particularly for elderly people with other heath problems or weakened systems.
Influenza is a highly infectious and potentially dangerous disease.
Flu is spread by droplets from coughing or sneezing.
Flue is often called “Seasonal” as it tends to occur in the colder, winter months.
Elderly people living in aged care homes are particularly vulnerable to flu. It can lead to complications such as pneumonia which in turn can result in death in the elderly and others whose health may put them at risk.
Homes must have in place ways of preventing and reducing the spread of infection at all times – hand washing is always important. However, if there is an outbreak of flu or gastro, a number of extra precautions will be taken to prevent the spread of the disease:
This will include increased hand washing as well as cleaning of bedding and rooms of ill people, kitchens and communal areas. During an outbreak the staff may also wear face masks, gloves and gowns when with ill residents.
Staff will take swabs or stool samples to send for laboratory testing to allow for early identification of influenza or gastro
Those who are displaying symptoms may be cared for in rooms away from other residents. This helps staff provide necessary care and reduces the spread of the infection.
Some staff may be required to provide care only to affected residents. This helps reduce the spread and protect other residents, families and staff.
The home will inform visitors of an outbreak and may restrict access to particular areas. Homes may place signs indicating restrictions and requesting visitors to wash their hands before and after visiting to prevent spread
Staff with symptoms of flu or gastro should not come to work. Even mildly unwell staff can spread illness and prolong an outbreak.
Having the flu vaccination each year helps protect you, your children and elderly relatives
Particularly elderly relatives and friends. Flu vaccination is free for people over 65 and over and for Aboriginals, Torres Strait Islander peoples 50 years and over
Wash your hands regularly. Washing your hands well with liquid soap and water or alcohol hand rub before and after visiting will help reduce the spread of disease
Cover your mouth when coughing and dispose of used tissues immediately and appropriately
Alert staff if you feel that your elderly relative or friend is more lethargic or less responsive than usual. These may be early signs of illness.
If you have recently been ill, been in contact with someone who is ill or you have symptoms of respiratory illness (fever, sore throat, cough, muscle and joint pain, tiredness/exhaustion) or gastro, please do not visit the home.
If there is an outbreak in the home, visit only the person you have come to see and keep children away if they or the elderly resident are unwell.
The Director of Nursing or Care Manager will be happy to talk to you about how the residence manages an outbreak and how you can assist.
All information is correct as of February 2011. This and other information can be obtained from www.health.gov.au or by talking to our Director of Nursing or Clinical Care Manger regarding any current outbreaks or additional information pertaining to the policies and procedures of RusCare Ltd.