Australia's deadly flu outbreak prompts new health warnings


Federal health authorities are demanding answers after a second nursing home reported a spate of deaths from Australia's worst flu outbreak on record.

Six elderly residents have died at Tasmania's Strathdevon aged care facility, following seven fatal cases in Victoria.

The Turnbull Government wants to know if more could have been done to prevent them.

Despite 95 per cent of its residents being vaccinated, the Strathdevon aged care facility is mourning the loss of six elderly men and women diagnosed with influenza A.

Management at the centre in the northern Tasmanian town of Latrobe say staff did everything possible to minimise the impact of the outbreak but it couldn't prevent 31 of the 37 residents coming down with the virus.

The latest tragedy follows revelations seven people aged between 70 and 94 died following an outbreak at Wangaratta's St John's Retirements Village in one of Victoria's worst flu seasons ever.

Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said he has instructed his agency to meet with the Victorian health unit and St John's to determine whether the deaths could have been prevented.

"Any loss of life within aged care is something that does concern me, particularly when it's influenza."

He urged staff in aged care homes and family members to get their flu injection.

"Equally, family members who had the flu - at least wear a mask, or don't come in while you are in that infectious period," Minister Wyatt said.

Australian Medical Association Victoria President Lorraine Baker said the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this variety of the flu.

"This is a very virulent strain of Influenza A. If this particular virus attacks the lungs, kidney function, your liver function - it's a whole-body infection - then those people with a compromise of those systems are more likely to die," Ms Baker said.

She said it's not just influenza A that has been causing health issues across Australia.

"There's also a number of respiratory illnesses that cause a disease very similar to the flu, and you can be unlucky and catch any one of those during the winter months.

"And there are also bacterial infections which seem to seek out people who have recently had the flu and settle into their lungs and cause another form of infection of the lungs, and a form of pneumonia. So somebody who has recently had the flu may be much more vulnerable to a bacterial pneumonia."

After discussions with the chief medical officer, minister Wyatt and Health Minister Greg Hunt are expected to make a statement on nursing home vaccinations in the next few days.

Mr Wyatt says some standards may need to be strengthened.

"No option is ruled off the table because the paramount thing for the Turnbull Government is that we protect citizens in our country from any form of virulent infection," he said.

"And we'd certainly be looking at what it is that we need to consider with some degree of immediacy to ensure that we don't have similar outbreaks elsewhere."

More than 105,000 flu cases have been confirmed nationally, the largest number ever diagnosed in one season.

In Victoria alone, cases have doubled on this time last year to almost 12,000.

Source SBS World News

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