View Comments

Flu outbreaks in nursing homes could be reined in, saving lives and protecting the most vulnerable, under a new preventive approach put to the test by University of Sydney researchers.

In results published in online medical journal PLOS ONE last month, researchers achieved lower rates of infection in residents and staff, fewer hospitalisations and a reduced outbreak duration using the antiviral drug oseltamivir, also known as Tamiflu.

Tamiflu is commonly used to treat people with flu within two days of the onset of symptoms.

In the study of 16 nursing homes over three winter flu seasons, researchers used two strategies, either treating only those residents in the home who had flu symptoms with Tamiflu or treating all residents with Tamiflu once an outbreak was detected, regardless of displayed flu symptoms.

In those care facilities where patients were treated with Tamiflu both for symptom relief and as a preventive measure, there was a reduction in the length of flu outbreaks by 13 days and the number of residents affected was also significantly reduced.

Researchers said the results supported adoption of widespread preventive use of the drug during outbreaks in nursing homes.

Robert Booy, head of clinical research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance at Sydney Medical School and lead author of the study, said while it was important to vaccinate the elderly against flu, outbreaks might still occur.

Penny Flett, chief executive of Brightwater Care Group, one of the biggest aged-care providers in WA, said the influenza virus was very contagious and could spread quickly through an aged-care facility. Preventive measures, including providing the flu vaccine to residents, were taken at all Brightwater facilities before flu season.