It is that time of the year when those with relatives in aged care centres turn up to visit and find a big sign on the door stating that the centre is in Lockdown and they are no able to go in, or if they do there are extra handwashing and other controls in place to what is required usually.
So what is a Lockdown and why do aged care centres need to have them?
A Lockdown is required in an aged care centre whenever there is an illness within the centre which must be isolated so that it can be contained and controlled. The aim of the lockdown is to contain the illness to specific residents and prevent it from spreading. This means that unless there is a very good reason, people are not allowed to come in from outside and the residents are restricted to their rooms.
Obviously no centre will have a lockdown for any longer than required as it is not only expensive, as staff can only work in the areas they were in when the lockdown was declared and cannot move around as normal, so overtime is often required , but is extremely disprutive to all. The residents must remain in their rooms for days and all food has to be brought to them and then cleared as they cannot go into the dining or common rooms. Staff and residents get cranky very quickly due to the lack of movement and interaction which can result in mistakes and other problems, so a lockdown is only called when it is necessary to protect residnets and prevent the spread of the infection.
Lockdowns can happen because of food poisoning, the flu and other conditions but it is more likely that in the cooler months in Australia, it is a virus called Norovorus which is the main reason for lockdowns in aged care centres.
So following is Norovirus information from the Food Standards Australia website – http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/safety/foodborne-illness/Pages/Norovirus.aspx
What is norovirus?
Norovirus is the name given to a group of viruses that can be found in the gut of people.
What illness does it cause?
Norovirus causes gastroenteritis. This illness is not a nationally notifiable disease and doesn’t need to be reported to health authorities unless there is an outbreak.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms are frequent vomiting and watery diarrhoea, nausea, muscle aches, headaches and low fever. Symptoms usually begin between 24 to 48 hours after a person becomes infected (e.g. after eating contaminated food).
Sometimes infected people have no symptoms.
Most people are sick for one to three days.
Who can get sick?
Anyone can get gastroenteritis from norovirus, even if they’ve had it before.
In very young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems (e.g. cancer patients) the illness can be more serious due to dehydration.
Where does it come from?
Norovirus can get into water and food from the faeces (poo) or vomit of infected people, for example from contact with sewerage or dirty hands. The virus can stay infectious in the environment for a long time and might not be destroyed by common disinfectants.
Common foods that can be contaminated with norovirus include bivalve molluscan shellfish (e.g. oysters) and food that is ready to eat (won’t be further cooked).
How can people get sick?
- By eating or drinking contaminated food
- By touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching your mouth (e.g. while eating)
- From infected people transferring the virus to food, cutlery, glassware and other things they touch
How can illness be prevented?
- Wash and dry hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food, especially after going to the toilet or changing nappies
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating
- Anyone who is sick with norovirus should not prepare food for others until 48 hours after vomiting and diarrhoea have stopped