Flu, influenza-like illness (ILI), and viral gastroenteritis (‘gastro’) infections occur across the ACT community, especially during the winter months. The elderly, particularly those living in aged care facilities, can be more vulnerable to these infections due to underlying medical conditions or medications that suppress their immune systems. A flu, ILI or gastro infection in an elderly resident may lead to functional decline, hospitalisation, and in some cases death.
Aged care facilities can be challenging environments for infection control, due to staff, residents and visitors moving throughout the facility and interacting with each other, residents sharing communal meals and other group activities, as well as shared spaces and people within close proximity.
It is important to be proactive to minimise transmission of ILI, flu and gastro in aged care settings. The risk of spreading flu can be reduced by residents, staff and visitors receiving the flu vaccine each year. Family and friends should be reminded that they should not visit an aged care facility when they are unwell with any respiratory or gastro symptoms. Cough and sneeze etiquette, as well as hand hygiene, should be promoted to residents, staff and visitors all year and especially during the cooler months.
Occasionally, outbreaks of ILI, flu and gastro occur in aged care facilities. When outbreaks occur, the facility is required to report these to ACT Health and implement outbreak precautions. Residents with symptoms will need to be isolated to prevent spreading the infection to other residents in the facility, and unwell staff should be excluded from work.
Recognising and reporting an outbreak
Over the winter months, when flu/ILI and gastro are more common in the community, outbreaks can occur in aged care facilities. Staff should be alert to any change in symptoms or behaviour among residents and remember that not all elderly residents will have a fever when they have ILI/flu or gastro. Any change in usual symptoms should be reported to the care manager/nurse in charge (or equivalent) of the facility.
Under the Public Health Act 1997, aged care facilities are required to notify CDC if they have:
- three or more cases of ILI** among residents and/or staff in a 72 hour period
- two or more cases of gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and/or vomiting) among residents and/or staff in a 24 hour period. For more information, see the Gastro outbreaks in childcare and aged care setting section below.
More information about notifiable disease reporting and surveillance is available here.
**ILI case definition:
Sudden onset of symptoms
AND at least one of the following respiratory symptoms:
- Cough (new or worsening)
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
AND at least one of the following systemic symptoms:
- Malaise (discomfort)
- Myalgia (muscle pain)
To report an outbreak or seek advice please call the Communicable Disease Control Section on 5124 9213.
Other resources to assist you during an outbreak of ILI or gastro in an aged care setting:
Ensuring appropriate infection control practices are adhered to year round will limit the spread of infectious diseases in an aged care facility. The most important infection control practices are effective hand hygiene, isolation of ill residents, and exclusion of sick staff. Other infection control measures include appropriate cough and sneeze etiquette and use of personal protective equipment, visitor restrictions and effective environmental cleaning.
Infection control is vital to minimising transmission and controlling outbreaks of ILI and gastro in aged care facilities. To effectively manage a communicable disease outbreak, you may need to implement additional infection control practices, increase the frequency and efficiency of environmental cleaning using appropriate products, and restrict the movement of patients, staff and visitors.
For advice about infection control, you can call the Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Information Line on 02 5124 9213 and ask for a member of the Infection Control team.
Unwell residents must be isolated to prevent spread to other residents. Residents with influenza must be isolated for 5 days from onset of symptoms. The isolation period for other viral respiratory infections may be longer than influenza – please call the CDC for advice on 5124 9213. Residents with gastro symptoms require isolation for the duration of their symptoms as well for 48 hours after their last symptom. Staff with symptoms of gastro or ILI/flu should be excluded from work for the same isolation periods.
Resources to assist with infection control in an aged care setting:
Additional resources for outbreak management and infection control
For further information about outbreak management and infection control, please visit:
In May 2018, CDC hosted an Aged Care Forum. The presentations from the forum are available here: