Information for Residential Aged Care Facilities

Older adults often have weaker immune systems and can be affected by underlying chronic disease which make them more susceptible to infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected elderly people – especially those residing in aged care facilities -  leading to high rates of severe illness and mortality in this age group. Rapid response to cases of respiratory disease, or to disease outbreaks, is vital to protect the health of vulnerable residents. The Public Health Unit provides support and advice to residential aged care facilities (RACFs) on various aspects of disease management. During the COVID-19 pandemic the Public Health Unit will advise on public health management of any case of respiratory illness in a RACF.

The Public Health Unit is notified of diseases which are listed under the Public Health Act 2010, and if associated with a residential aged care facility, will assist in following up individual cases, clusters, and suspected outbreaks. Below you will find information on reporting and managing respiratory cases and disease outbreaks in residential aged care facilities, vaccination requirements, and recommendations for residents, staff and volunteers.

Detailed guidelines to assist RACFs during COVID-19 can be found on the NSW Health website.

Residential aged care facilities should contact their Public Health Unit by phone as soon as possible if they suspect a disease outbreak, or if they have ANY case of acute respiratory illness (ARI) or unexplained fever in staff or residents 

A case of ARI is sudden onset of any of the following

  • respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) OR
  • during the COVID-19 pandemic, loss of taste and smell

A suspected influenza outbreak is usually defined as three or more cases of influenza-like illness (or other acute respiratory illness) during a 72 hour period.

An outbreak of gastrointestinal illness is defined as two or more people of any age with sudden onset of diarrhoea or vomiting within a 24 hour period.

To contact the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit, phone 9382 8333 during business hours. For after hours, phone 9382 2222 and ask for the Public Health Officer on call.

If you have a case of ARI, or you suspect there is an outbreak, at your residential aged care facility, you should contact your Public Health Unit as soon as possible. To contact the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit, phone (02) 9382 8333 during business hours. For after hours, phone (02) 9382 2222 and ask for the Public Health Officer on call. The Public Health Unit will provide you with information and assistance.

Once you have notified the Public Health Unit, you will be instructed to send details of the case, and/or a line list. A line list is a document containing information on the number of staff and residents at the facility, and information regarding those who are ill.  You will be advised on when to send updated line lists throughout the monitoring period.  You will also be advised on the collection of samples for testing and to increase infection control measures such as:

  • Personal protective measures (e.g. hand hygiene)
  • Isolation of ill residents
  • Reducing the risk of disease spread by excluding infected staff and restricting the number of visitors
  • Thorough cleaning of potentially infected surfaces

If any residents, with or without symptoms, are sent to a hospital during the outbreak, the hospital should be notified that the facility is experiencing a possible or confirmed ARI outbreak. Any transfer of suspected COVID cases must be discussed with the PHU.

The Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Public Health Management of Influenza Outbreaks in Residential Care Facilities in Australia recommend that residential aged care facilities have a policy for vaccinating staff, volunteers and residents against the flu (influenza).

From 1 May 2018, residential aged care providers that are subsidised by the Australian Government are required to have a flu vaccination program in place that provides staff and volunteers with free access to the flu vaccination every year, actively promotes the benefits of the flu vaccination, and keeps a record of those who have been vaccinated.

During the COVID-19 pandemic any staff or visitors that have not been vaccinated against influenza are not permitted to enter an RACF unless there is a certified medical contraindication or the vaccine is not available to them. More details available here.

Residential aged care facilities are able to order their own influenza vaccines if they have a Vaccine Account Number (VAN). Influenza vaccine order forms are available on the NSW Health website. 

For more information, visit the Mandatory influenza (flu) vaccination program for residential aged care providers page on the Department of Health website.

To contact the Public Health Unit email us or phone 9382 8333 during business hours. For disease notification after hours, phone 9382 2222 and ask for the Public Health Officer on call.