Flu signs in three new Donegal home cases


THREE ADDITIONAL residents in the Co Donegal nursing home at the centre of a flu outbreak are showing symptoms of the illness, the Health Service Executive has said.

This brings to 14 the number of residents, aged in their 80s and 90s, who are suffering from the flu at Nazareth House nursing home, Fahan, Buncrana. Six elderly residents died at the home between March 22nd and April 2nd.

Last night a HSE team was still at the home, where patients who are ill have been segregated from other residents.

A Health Information and Quality Authority inspection team left the home yesterday. It has not said when its report will be published.

The authority was called in to the nursing home when a GP notified the HSE about the flu outbreak on April 1st, after five people had died over a short period.

Guidelines given to nursing homes at the beginning of last winter suggest the HSE should have been called in sooner.

Minister of State for the Elderly Kathleen Lynch has said public health officials should have been called to the home before April 1st.

“The lesson to be learned is, where you are dealing with vulnerable people in a private or a public nursing home, keep the Department of Health informed when anything . . . outside the norm occurs so we can help.”

She said notification should be given, not so a penalty can be imposed, “but so we can help and ensure that operators are assisted in the care of very vulnerable people . . . We are not certain whether early intervention would have had any different result.”

A report yesterday from the European Centre for Disease Control said that, since the beginning of February 2012, an increased number of excess deaths among the elderly has been observed in 12 European countries, including the Republic, that carry out weekly monitoring.

It says this may be due to the influenza A (H3N2) virus, a strain similar to that which caused the deaths of the six residents in the Donegal nursing home over 10 days.

During February and March this year the number of older people dying was greater than expected.

While emphasising the preliminary nature of their analysis, the authors of the research say “the epidemiology of the impact of influenza in Europe differs in the 2011/12 season from the recent pandemic and post-pandemic seasons, with excess mortality in the elderly caused by the return of influenza A (H3N2) virus.”

Doctors have suggested the return of H3N2 this year has had an impact on older patients. The H3 strain included in the seasonal vaccine given to at-risk people since last September is an imperfect match for the strain of the virus currently infecting patients.