Record number of influenza cases to start 2019

Matt Woodley

11/02/2019 3:46:50 PM

The high rate – almost three times the average for this time of year – has prompted reminders for pregnant women to access vaccinations.

Pregnant women have been urged to access the flu vaccine.
Pregnant women have been urged to access the flu vaccine.

More than 6500 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza were reported in January, an increase of 2800 on last year’s national figures. Another 1300 have been recorded this month, with Queensland and the Northern Territory appearing to be the hardest hit.
New South Wales has also seen a spike, leading the Director of Communicable Diseases Branch for NSW Health, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, to issue a public call for pregnant women in particular to receive their free vaccination.
‘Nearly every state and territory is seeing unusually high levels of flu activity, with the national reporting rate almost three times the average for this time of year,’ Dr Sheppeard said.
‘It is a timely warning for pregnant women to get a flu shot so the antibodies will help protect their babies until they are old enough to be vaccinated at six months of age.
‘Pregnant women in their final trimester who are due to give birth before April should get along to their GP, or their trained pharmacist, and get a free flu shot.’
Dr Mark Morgan, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care, told newsGP that while the rate of influenza cases is higher compared to this time last year, it is still well below the number of cases traditionally reported in winter months.
‘The high number of cases is thought to be in part due to travellers returning from the northern hemisphere,’ he said.
‘GPs should emphasise use of private influenza immunisation as part of travel medicine counselling and remind patients about hand and tissue hygiene.
‘They should likewise consider infections with influenza-like illness in the summer with the same precautions as during winter flu outbreaks, ie reduce spread within the clinical setting by hand hygiene, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, and separating patients by at least a metre.’
The 2196 influenza cases confirmed across NSW in the five weeks to 3 February is double the total recorded for the same period last year, while there has been a number of influenza A outbreaks at residential aged care facilities.
NSW Health also reports that overall respiratory presentations to NSW emergency departments are above average for this time of year, but ruled out the emergence of a new influenza strain as a contributing factor.
The flu vaccine is free for pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people aged 65 years and over, or those with medical conditions such as severe asthma, diabetes and heart problems.
Despite the high number of cases, however, the majority of Australians have been advised to delay getting vaccinated.
‘For the rest of us, it is best to wait until the 2019 flu vaccine becomes available in April or May; but if you are already unwell, avoid visiting hospitals, aged care facilities or infants,’ Dr Sheppeard advised.
‘And remember, to prevent the spread of influenza cough and sneeze into your elbow, wash your hands regularly, and stay home if you’re unwell.’

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