Fatal illness hits elderly

AN UNDISCLOSED number of deaths of elderly people in full-time aged care in Coffs Harbour has prompted a health warning from the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS).

The Coffs Coast Advocate was yesterday unable to determine the exact number of elderly residents who have died as a result of what the NCAHS has described as an 'infectious respiratory illness', but funeral notices from the past week mark the passing of 13 residents over the age of 80.

The deaths have prompted a health warning to the community to be especially mindful of the vulnerability of frail aged patients.

A spokesman for the NCAHS said aged care residents were often people in a weakened health state, and as such could be seriously affected by any infection.

"Anyone who feels unwell is strongly advised to postpone visiting patients in health care facilities until they themselves have fully recovered," North Coast director of Public Health, Paul Corben, said.

Mr Corben stressed that a co-ordinated response by health authorities, medical practitioners, and the residential facility had enabled the illness to be effectively contained.

Measures taken included implementation of strict infection control practices, the administering of preventative antibiotics and in some cases hospitalisation.

The majority of people affected have now recovered fully.

"Although the respiratory illness has not yet been precisely identified it appears that the containment strategy has worked well, with no new cases occurring for nearly two weeks," Mr Corben said.

"It is important to assure the public that this infection has not spread beyond the facilities or hospitals."

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