2019 flu season may kill 4,000 Aussies

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  Last updated July 19, 2019 at 1:57 pm

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With 40,000 confirmed influenza cases in Australia this early in the season, experts are urging the public to get the flu vaccine.


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Experts are warning that this flu season could be lethal


Experts at an AusSMC briefing this week warned that deaths could hit 4,000 unless infection rates slow before the winter peak.


At 40,000, the number of confirmed cases is triple the typical levels seen at this time of year – in 2018 there were 58,000 recorded cases for the entire year.


This flu season “really strange”


2019 may be shaping up to be a particularly bad year because immunity to the flu among Aussies is low after a mild season in 2018.


The fact that there is also the presence of two types of flu in Australia this year, rather than the usual one could also be a contributing factor.


Immunisation Coalition Chairman Professor Robert Booy told journalists at the briefing that this flu season has been “really strange”.


“There has been a sustained and rising summer and autumn surge that began at the end of last year and is continuing to increase,” he says.


Everyone should get the jab


Members of the community at the greatest risk of dying from flu complications include the young, the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and people with severe asthma and heart diseases.


But healthy Aussies should get the flu vaccine, even if they don’t fall into one of these categories.


The experts say this is necessary as people are likely to come into contact with people who are vulnerable.


Dr Kirsty Short from The University of Queensland warned that people who are obese or have diabetes are also more susceptible to severe flu, and are “significantly more likely to be hospitalised with the flu… significantly more likely to be admitted to the ICU and…significantly more likely to die from the virus.”


Booy recommended getting vaccinated during May for the best chance of avoiding flu altogether.


“If you get vaccinated in the month of May, you can deal with the flu that’s already around [and] it will protect you for about four months to cover the winter flu season,” he says.


Dr Elizabeth McCarthy from The University of Melbourne says mums-to-be should not worry about getting the jab as it’s safer for women and their unborn children to have the jab than to avoid it.


How to avoid the flu


Professor William Rawlinson from UNSW Sydney offered some tips for avoiding infection.


“Don’t forget simple measures, like washing your hands, coughing into your elbow and using tissues – and there are anti-virals which are available,” he says.


“Finally, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with. If you think you have the flu, talk to your GP about diagnosis,” he adds.


You can listen to the AusSMC Briefing here.


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About the Author

Joseph Milton
Joe Milton is an evolutionary biologist who, after studying the evolution of plants for ten years at various Scottish universities, made a move into journalism. Since then he has written for the Financial Times, Nature and New Scientist, among others. Joe joined the London Science Media Centre in 2010, where he was Senior Press Officer for Mental Health, before taking up the position of Senior Media Officer at the Australian Science Media Centre in July 2012.

Published By

The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.


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