‘Flu fighters’ protect Western Sydney aged care homes

The flu study team is comprised of nurse Elizabeth Ridgway, PhD candidate Christian Jones and nurse Elizabeth Clarke.

A specialist team of experts is hitting the road to help protect vulnerable older people from potentially deadly influenza (flu) outbreaks.

The research project, being led by Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) with the Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR), aims to enhance the management of flu outbreaks at aged care homes and reduce the impact on residents and staff.

The mobile flu response team uses a point-of-care machine to test aged care residents on site for influenza A, influenza B or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and provide an accurate diagnosis in 30 minutes.

This allows staff to rapidly institute outbreak containment measures and commence most appropriate treatment for residents.

WSLHD Public Health Unit director Dr Shopna Bag explained time is of the essence when dealing with a potential flu outbreak.

“Older people are more vulnerable to the flu and complications such as pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalisation and even death,” Dr Bag said.

“The risk is even greater within aged care homes, where the virus can spread quickly between vulnerable people who spend a lot of time in close proximity.

“Containing flu outbreaks as quickly as possible and preventing spread within aged care homes is crucial to preventing unnecessary ill health and improving their quality of life.”

The findings of the 12-month research project, which is funded by pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, will help inform outbreak control measures in the health district.

With the flu season looming, Dr Bag said it is important for people to take a few simple steps to protect themselves and their loved ones.

“Any day in May is a great time to get the flu shot, and it’s available for free for our high risk groups, including anyone aged 65 and over,” she said.

“If you do have flu symptoms, please stay home and definitely avoid visiting hospitals, aged care homes and other places with vulnerable people.”