Last updated May 20, 2019 at 11:18 am
With 40,000 confirmed influenza cases in Australia this early in the season, experts are urging the public to get the flu vaccine.
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.
“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
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
“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.