The final report into the human metapneumovirus (hMPV) outbreak at Herberton Hospital has found Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS) responded promptly and appropriately to the issue.

The Department of Health released the Chief Health Officer’s final report Tuesday.


Seven patients of Herberton Hospital, a 38-bed aged and palliative care facility, died this year following the outbreak. A review was initiated following concerns raised with the response to the initial outbreak.

The outbreak was declared over on 18 February 2016.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said her investigation found CHHHS implemented appropriate infection control measures to minimise the risk of transmission following laboratory confirmation of the outbreak.

“The care of patients at Herberton Hospital was compliant with the relevant legislation, accreditation standards, policies and procedures,” Dr Young said.

“Additionally CHHHS’ response to the outbreak did not contribute to any increased level of risk to the local community.”

Based on the evidence considered in the course of the investigation, Dr Young has made a number of recommendations to be considered by similar facilities.

“I have recommended that facilities work to increase rates of annual influenza vaccination for staff and patients in all health facilities, particularly facilities that provide care for immunocompromised and vulnerable patients (e.g. elderly),” she said.

“Consistent, regular and easily accessible advice should also be provided to staff and visitors not to attend care facilities when they have cold or flu-like symptoms to help minimise the potential risk of the spread of infection to staff, patients and other visitors.”

Related: A primer on human metapneumovirus (hMPV)

Dr Young also recommended local isolation procedures be determined in advance of an outbreak with pre-identified triggers, notification processes, isolation areas and staffing practices.

However, she said the ability of each facility to effectively isolate and cohort patients was highly dependent on the physical design and available infrastructure.

“Options and effectiveness may be limited by the requirements of patients, for example those with dementia. Isolating or moving these patients may result in distress and risk of poor clinical outcomes,” she said.

Dr Young said adequate infection control was also essential, including restricting admissions, discharges or inter-facility transfers during a suspected or confirmed outbreak.

“Hand hygiene and droplet precaution practices should be ingrained in facility procedures with widespread and simple access to hand hygiene facilities and tissues, and availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, as needed,” she said.

Dr Young extended her thanks to those who participated in the investigation, particularly staff from Tropical Public Health Services (Cairns) and Herberton Hospital.

“I also offer my sincere thanks to the families of residents of Herberton Hospital who took the time to meet with me,” she said.

“The deaths are a sad event and my condolences go out to those affected.”