An outbreak of influenza at the state veterans' home in Rocky Hill sent 18 veterans to the hospital on Monday, with six being diagnosed with a special strain of flu.
State Veterans' Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz told The Associated Press that the veterans were taken to Hartford Hospital after several began complaining of flu-like symptoms. The 18 men live at the Connecticut State Veterans Home in either the Sgt. John L. Levitow Veteran's Health Center or a residential facility.
The six diagnosed veterans came from the health care facility and Schwartz said they were in stable condition. She was uncertain how long they will remain under observation at the hospital, saying it will depend on how they respond to treatment.
"We haven't heard anything terrible," she said of their current condition. "It's the respiratory kind. Many of our veterans are frail and elderly, so it's very risky."
Schwartz said the veterans had previously been inoculated against influenza, but not this strain.
She said Connecticut Department of Public Health officials believe it is a case of delayed seasonal influenza, given how late in the season it has occurred. Schwartz said her agency contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for advice on handling the outbreak.
By Monday afternoon, veterans and staff were given doses of Tamiflu, a drug used to treat flu symptoms, as a precautionary measure. Schwartz said they'll have to take two doses every day for two weeks. To prevent the flu from spreading, many group and communal activities have been canceled and visitations are being limited.
"We were lucky that we identified it," said Schwartz, who has been the commissioner for nine years, serving three governors. "We're doing everything we can and our biggest concern is the people in the health care facility who already have respiratory problems. This is not going to be helpful."
The average age of the veterans at the health care facility is 80 to 85 years old.
Besides the 18 who were transported to the hospital, Schwartz said an additional 22 veterans who live in the residential facility, which is a barracks-like situation, have complained of symptoms. They have been partially isolated from the rest of the population and will not be allowed to eat with the other veterans to prevent further spreading of the virus. She said her agency has been advised that the flu could last five to seven days.
The Rocky Hill campus currently has about 475 veterans. Schwartz said there are about 300 staff but not all are engaged in patient care. She said some staff members have called out sick with flu-like symptoms.