Wow, what a year 2020 was. A global pandemic turned the world as we knew it upside down. Outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred in some residential aged care facilities (RACFs) with many deaths occurring as a result. Outbreaks can occur when vulnerable people are living near others; have frequent contact with staff, other residents, visitors and the environment; and have complex chronic health conditions, increasing the chances of a compromised immune system. Many lessons have been learned and shared with the spotlight on infection prevention and control practices throughout the aged care industry. These were incorporated into the Royal Commission into Aged Care with several recommended interventions already being put into place to address identified gaps and issues. 

The Aged Care Royal Commission Final Report summary (1 March, 2021, p.11) states that

“Infection Control should be a central feature of care for aged care providers. In residential aged care, an infection outbreak has the potential to cause serious illness and death among vulnerable older people and staff.” 

With COVID restrictions now gradually being lifted, and the vaccine roll-out underway, it is a timely reminder that staff cannot be complacent and must continue to be alert to the outbreaks other than COVID that can occur in aged care. Influenza and influenza-like illness rates in 2020 were found to be dramatically decreased, which was attributed to the tight restrictions and precautions that were in place due to COVID-19.   

With the 2021 influenza season approaching, and with all residential aged care facilities now required to have an IPC Lead, it is timely to do a stock take of how prepared your facility is for an influenza outbreak.   

How to prepare for the influenza season

  1. Refresh staff knowledge of the signs and symptoms of respiratory illnesses, clinical assessments and the escalation process.   
  2. Know the criteria for an outbreak and the reporting mechanisms.   
  3. Have all the necessary forms, contact lists etc. within easy access (preferably with your outbreak management plan). 
  4. Discuss any clinical concerns about residents at handovers. 
  5. Check that your outbreak management plan (OMP) is current, service specific and easily accessible to all staff.  Ensure all staff know what their role and responsibilities are in the event of an outbreak. 
  6. Check that you have sufficient stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that you know where to obtain more with short notice. 
  7. Promote the benefits of influenza vaccination and have a register of those who had received the vaccine, both staff and residents/consumers. This must be readily available on request.  
  8. Screen visitors and staff for any respiratory symptoms.  
  9. Remind staff not to come to work if unwell.  
  10. Conduct regular spot audits on hand hygiene compliance for all staff and provide further training if any issues or concerns are found. 
  11. Continue to promote strict adherence to standard precautions by all staff. 
  12. Regularly communicate with your residents and families reminding them of the need for strict hand washing (assisting those who need it), to report any signs and symptoms, to stay in their room if they are unwell, for their guests to not visit if they unwell, and to promote the benefits of vaccination. 
  13. If you are storing vaccines in the workplace, ensure that there is a trained, designated person and a delegate who are responsible for vaccine management and have completed the Department of Health “National Vaccine Storage Guidelines Strive for 5” online training, and that everyone is complying with all requirements. 

So much hard work and effort has gone into keeping everyone safe during the COVID pandemic and everyone has done an amazing job. We cannot afford to become complacent with infection prevention and control this influenza season: the lives of those to whom we provide care and services depend on it.   

 Don’t let your success of today lay you into the complacency for tomorrow.

Og Mandino

Outbreak readiness is a key aspect of infection prevention and control in aged care. Is your facility ready? If you or your facility need some reassurance that you’re on track to prevent tragedy this flu season, contact Bug Control today to see how we can help you. With over twenty-five years of experience in infection control in aged care across Australia and New Zealand, we’ve seen it all.