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New app ‘game changer’ in fight against flu outbreaks

As of June this year there has been a recorded 75 flu outbreaks in NSW aged care facilities, with 86 residents requiring hospitalisation and 18 recorded deaths.

And this week, an aged care facility in NSW was put into lockdown after three deaths due to an influenza outbreak. Twenty staff and 20 patients fell ill with flu-like sypmtoms, with five residents being hospitalised.

To create better responses to these types of outbreaks, a new app has been developed by the team at the Public Health Unit at Sydney Local Health District.

The unit won a grant of $48,000 for the design of the app, known as FluCARE (The InFLUenza outbreak Communication, Advice and REporting app) in 2017 and spent the last two years in development. The app is set to be piloted in 30 aged care facilities in the district.

“The app has been created to help staff at residential aged-care facilities quickly recognise and respond to an outbreak of the flu, which is critical to minimise its spread and impact,” Sydney Local Health District epidemiologist Dr Emma Quinn said.

The app’s algorithm will analyse the data and trigger an alert when the criteria for an outbreak is reached, sending email notifications to aged care staff and management as well as the District’s on-call public health officer and designated GPs.

During the 12-month pilot, staff will record data concerning flu and flu-like illnesses, further helping to refine the app before a planned rollout to all district facilities in 2020.

The unit’s clinical director Dr Leena Gupta said FluCARE uses technology in an innovative way to address an issue faced by residential aged-care facilities every year.

“It’s a game-changer,” Gupta said. "It also has the potential to be adapted to respond to other outbreaks, like a gastroenteritis outbreak in a childcare centre, which are of public health concern in the district. And, it could be applicable beyond our district. It has the potential to be implemented across NSW."

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