Flu cases higher than this time last year

Meanwhile a Brisbane doctor has broken ranks with colleagues, saying people should get their flu jab now

There have been a total of 10,474 laboratory confirmed notifications of influenza in Australia so far for 2018, according to the Australian Immunisation Coalition.

And according to Queensland Health statistics, there have been 3242 laboratory-confirmed notifications of influenza in the state as of 1 April.

The Immunisation Coalition cites its number for Queensland at a higher 3423.

This is compared to 2961 notifications for the same period last year – which was one of the worst flu seasons on record, with more than 248,125 confirmed notifications of influenza across the country.

The average number of notifications in Queensland from 1 January to 1 April over the previous five years (2013-2017) was 1764.

A similarly higher trend can be seen in NSW, with 3259 notified reports of influenza as of 31 March, compared with 2318 by the same time last year, and 1691 the year before that (2016).

While the number of year-to-date cases of influenza in 2018 is higher than previous years, Queensland Health says there may be several reasons to explain this.

“These include increased influenza awareness among clinicians resulting from the large number of notifications seen last year, increased opportunities for point-of-care testing for influenza, and the fact that the number of influenza tests conducted in public laboratories has almost doubled in the past few years,” says a Queensland Health spokesperson.

Queensland Health says it is working hard to prevent a repeat of last years’ flu season.

“Our message remains the same: get vaccinated every year because it is the best way of protecting yourself against the flu.”

Meanwhile Brisbane doctor Deb Mills from Dr Deb the Travel Doctor has told mainstream media that people should get the flu jab now.

“Basically you can’t tell when the flu is going to hit,” she told The Courier Mail.

“If you wait (to get the vaccine) it’s a bit like Russian roulette.”

Dr Mills said Australia doesn’t know enough about influenza to be “fussy” about vaccination timing.

“You never know when the thing is coming,” she said.

“What if the flu hits in May? I don’t think there’s any major disadvantage in having it now.”

RACGP president Dr Bastien Seidel said: “Typically, flu season affects Australia from June to September, with the peak being August.

“Recent evidence suggests that protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after three to four months, so timing of vaccination is critical.”

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon had initially joined with the RACGP, entering the flu debate by criticising pharmacies that were advertising early flu shots.

However he has since toned down his message.

“I think the most important message for me to give to people is the value of the vaccine,” Dr Gannon said this week.

“So rather than get caught up in a debate about whether you have it at your GP or in a pharmacy or whether you have it on April 10 or May 1, the most important message is that it’s safe, it’s effective, it’s important.”

In March, Immunisation Coalition director Robert Booy told the AJP that people at high risk of flu complications should wait until April or May for vaccination, but that the well can be vaccinated during March.

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  1. Raymond Abbott

    all good advice but the biggest problem in these ravages by flu is in 2 areas.
    1. the destruction of ‘sick leave’ & permanency in favour of temporary employment means people go to work sick & spread it about.
    2. The forcing of women into the work force means their kids go to school sick rather than staying at home thereby spreading it again to others.
    Solution? I don’t have one. Both these things came about through bad govt policies.

  2. Andrew Smith

    “…the most important message is that it’s safe, it’s effective, it’s important.”

    Dr Gannon clearly hasn’t seen the Cochrane review which has shown the flu vaccine to be around 1% effective. Numbers needed to treat (NNT) to prevent one case of influenza is 100. This was from the drug companies own studies.


    With such questionable data it does make you wonder who is behind this drive to get everyone “immunised” with a costly and ineffective vaccine.
    Perhaps it’s not surprising that groups like the Australian Immunisation Coalition are funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

    • mel

      Andrew, the article you’ve referred to is from 2010 – a lot has changed since then. Also, the reference is not actually the Cochran review, but a summary of a Cochran review, which from what I recall did not use a test-negative design. There are more recent, and accurate, meta-analysis now available on PubMed, which show very different numbers to what you have quoted. Here is just one: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0163445317302992?_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_origin=gateway&_docanchor=&md5=b8429449ccfc9c30159a5f9aeaa92ffb&ccp=y

      • pagophilus

        Not a lot has changed. Latest NNT from the latest 2018 review is 71 (Same as the 2014 one.)

        • mel

          Pagophilus, we all know the flu vaccine is far from perfect at preventing people from being infected with the flu virus howerever those that do get it are less likely to suffer severely- I know I’d rather spend $10 and avoid it altogether or get a mild case, than pass it to my pregnant friends, newborn relatives, grandparents (potentially killing them) and miss a week of work…plus the suffering.

          • pagophilus

            “Annual vaccination (including compulsory vaccination for health workers in residential aged care facilities) is based on poor evidence and may be overpromoted”.

            “Hygiene methods such as handwashing, face masks, and quarantine have been found to be extremely effective at protecting against acute respiratory infections in a Cochrane review, with numbers needed to treat as low as three. Why are these methods not canvassed as heavily as vaccination or antivirals?”

            From BMJ 2017;359:j5007 doi: 10.1136/bmj.j5007 (Published 2017 November 01)

            Chris Del Mar professor of public health, Bond University, Peter Collignon infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist, Canberra Hospital, and executive director, ACT Pathology

          • Jarrod McMaugh

            “Why are these methods not canvassed as heavily as vaccination or antivirals”

            Antivirals for influenza are actually poorer so that’s not a great option.

            As for handwashing and face masks….. the problem is that these rely on humans to actually do this…. which they’re pretty awful at getting right.

            Vaccination is at least passive – once it’s done, no more thinking about it.

            The reality is, handwashing and facemasks need to be given more weight, and should be heavily promoted, but this shouldn’t be in place of vaccination, but in addition to it.

          • mel

            Yes, handwashing and face masks should be promoted but as we all know people are not good at it- especially given the super-spreaders are children. Plus there’s a study that came out early this year showing flu virus spreads just by breathing, when we thought it happened from people sneezing or coughing on us or when we touched a contaminated surface them introduced the virus into the body. So unless you’re willing to wear a mask all day everyday you’re out of home you’re at risk. Quarantine is a good idea too but that doesn’t help for the time frame prior to showing symptoms as you don’t know you’re infected. Yes, the vaccine is not amazing but it’s the best thing we have right now and if most of us got it we would could save thousands of people every year.

  3. Christopher Wood

    Asian countries seem to have the face mask protocol worked out, why can’t we?

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