5 May 2019

ACT flu cases double compared to same period in 2018 as experts warn of 'killer' season

| Glynis Quinlan
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Joy Burch MLA receiving the flu vaccination at the Conder Medical and Dental Centre. Photo: Supplied.

The ACT has recorded double the number of flu cases so far this year compared to the same period last year with health experts warning that Australia is in for a ‘killer’ flu season.

According to ACT Health, 237 cases of influenza have been recorded in the ACT this year compared to only 118 cases in the same period between January and April last year.

And while the early surge in flu cases in the ACT isn’t as bad as in some other Australian jurisdictions, experts are warning that the effects can be deadly and that now is a good time to get the flu vaccine.

Chair of the Immunisation Coalition, Professor Robert Booy, recently told ABC Radio that flu rates across Australia are three times as high this year as last year.

“This year, we expect the flu to kill at least 4,000 people which is the same number as deaths from suicide and the road toll combined,” he said.

Professor Booy said if people get vaccinated it can help stop transmission of the flu and prevent the number of cases from rising even more.

The ACT Government said the annual flu vaccination is the most effective way to protect against the flu and is urging Canberrans to get vaccinated ahead of the flu season (June to September).

“Flu can have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable people in our community and it can lead to serious complications and even death,” said Joy Burch MLA who on Wednesday (May 1) received the flu vaccination at the Conder Medical and Dental Centre to help raise awareness of its importance.

“Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people with certain chronic medical conditions are eligible for a free government-funded vaccine,” Ms Burch said.

“We know that life can get busy and finding time to book an appointment is challenging. But think about the time out and the interruption to your everyday life if you do get the flu when you’re not vaccinated.”

ACT Health Directorate’s Public Health Specialist Dr Vanessa Johnston said that current influenza activity in the ACT is stable but that each year the flu season varies in severity and the circulating strains.

Immunisation Coalition CEO, Kim Sampson, said there has been a very different start to the flu season this year, with unusually high rates of confirmed cases during the summer months.

“While it is not entirely clear why this might be the case, we do know that influenza occurs all year round in the tropics, including northern parts of Australia. Another factor is the ease of international travel, particularly between Australia and Asia,” Mr Sampson said.

“A third factor may be the particular strain of the virus presently circulating in the community, prior to the vaccine becoming available.”

Measles vaccination

In the ACT, the flu vaccine is free for people at higher risk of complications from flu, including children between the ages of six months and five years.

Dr Naveena Sunkaraneni from the Conder Medical and Dental Practice reminded Canberrans that the virus in the flu vaccine won’t give them the flu because it does not contain any live virus.

“Everyone is at potential risk and having the flu vaccine every year is the best way to protect yourself and others. I encourage everyone over the age of six months to roll their sleeves up and get vaccinated,” Dr Sunkaraneni said.

In the ACT, the flu vaccine is free for people at higher risk of complications from flu, including:

  • children aged six months to under five years
  • pregnant women
  • people aged 65 years and older
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older
  • people aged six months and older with underlying medical conditions.

This year ACT Health is expanding the influenza immunisation program for older Canberrans so that other primary care providers can also give them the vaccination, not only GPs.

Some pharmacies in the ACT will be participating in a pilot project to deliver the free flu vaccine to people 65 years and older. This same age group can also access a free vaccine if they are already attending a Walk-in Centre for medical care.

“We are urging all Canberrans to call their GP, an ACT Government Early Childhood Immunisation Clinic or visit a local pharmacy to make an appointment today,” Dr Johnston said.

For more information about immunisation visit: health.act.gov.au/flu

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