HSE only told about fatal flu outbreak after five had died
HEALTH authorities were left in the dark about a spate of deaths at a nursing home until after five residents had passed away and illness had swept through the facility.
Influenza claimed the lives of six elderly people who died in a private nursing home, tests confirmed last night.
Eleven other residents at Nazareth House at Fahan, near Buncrana, Co Donegal, are also suffering with respiratory symptoms similar to the residents who died.
The Sisters of Nazareth, the order of nuns who run the private home, expressed their deepest condolences on the passing of six residents.
"This is an extremely upsetting time for the families of the deceased and we continue to provide the residents at Nazareth Nursing Home with the highest standard of care," said a spokesman.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) was not told of the flu deaths among residents until last Sunday night.
Five pensioners -- aged between 85 and 98 years -- were dead when the nursing home's medical officer contacted the HSE's public health unit.
A sixth resident died of the same strain of flu that killed the others last Monday, the HSE's head of public health in the north west, Dr Peter Wright, confirmed.
Obituary notices show deaths of a number of residents at the Nazareth House over the past two weeks.
These include Margaret McGuire, formerly of Moneydarragh, Gleneely; and Carndonagh, and Bill Nicholl of Malin, who were both buried yesterday morning.
The funerals of Margaret Canavan, from Malin Road, Moville; and Mary Gill, from Ballybrack, Moville, were held on March 25.
Michael Plunkett McVeigh, another resident who was originally from Church Street, Buncrana, died on March 29 at Letterkenny Hospital -- the same day Bernard Breslin, of Redcastle in Donegal, died in hospital.
Eleven of the remaining 39 residents were still being treated for symptoms yesterday and doctors remained concerned about a small number because of their frailty.
Dr Wright was speaking after laboratory tests confirmed the AH3 strain of flu, which can be particularly dangerous for elderly people, was responsible for the deaths of all the residents.
He said he could not comment on whether lives would have been saved if authorities were alerted earlier but it was good practice to inform the public health unit as soon as possible.
Three of the residents of the home overlooking Lough Swilly were transferred to Letterkenny Hospital where they died of flu complications.
HSE infection control nurses have been transferred to the home and inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority were also on site.
It also emerged yesterday that a new resident was admitted to the home on Saturday and that the remains of one of the residents, who died of flu, was reposed at home on Thursday.
Dr Wright said this increased the risk of the flu spreading and he would not have advised it. Dr Darina O' Flanagan, head of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, revealed that four of the six people who died had been vaccinated against the flu.
However, she pointed out that the vaccine can be less effective in elderly people whose immune systems are weakened.
She also pointed out that the vaccine that the AH3 strain had changed slightly and it was an "imperfect fit" with the AH3 component of the vaccine which would have reduced some of its effectiveness.