Three new cases in Fahan home

A further three residents in the Fahan nursing home at the centre of a flu outbreak are reported to be showing symptoms of the illness.

A further three residents in the Fahan nursing home at the centre of a flu outbreak are reported to be showing symptoms of the illness.

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

A HSE team visited the home late last week, where patients who are ill have been segregated from other residents.

A Health Information and Quality Authority inspection team left the home on Thursday. 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 1, 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 1.

“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 last Thursday 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.