The severity of this year’s flu season can’t be written off as just an increase in reporting, an expert says
According to Department of Health and Ageing statistics, there have been a total of 43,079 confirmed notifications of influenza in Australia for 2017.
Over July, 21,866 cases were confirmed: a tripling of the figure of 9037 in July 2016.
“I think we’ve been reporting pretty consistently since the big jump two years ago,” says Paul Van Buynder, Chairman of the Australian Immunisation Coalition.
“What we’re seeing is actually a lot of flu at the moment.”
He says there is a “real mix” of strains circulating in the community.
Dr Van Buynder says that officially, it’s never too late to be vaccinated against flu, especially because “this could drag on for at least another month”.
He says pharmacists still administering vaccinations should warn patients that the vaccine takes 10 to 14 days to come into effect.
“If they get the injection Tuesday and they’re exposed to the virus Thursday, they need to be warned about the fact that there’s still a risk,” he told the AJP.
“We would recommend that they encourage people to stay home from school and work, and make sure they’re using tissues and disposing of them carefully, and washing their hands regularly.”
He recommended pharmacists who become infected stay home as well.
“They’re going to have a lot of contact with the public – I’m hoping they’re all vaccinated, but they’re not, and we don’t want people coming in for their blood pressure and diabetes medicines and getting it from their pharmacist.”
The severe season offers pharmacists an opportunity to explain to people the difference between colds and flu, and refer patients to their doctor for treatment if appropriate.
“I think it’s a chance to tell them that there’s lots of parainfluenza and rhinoviruses circulating out there – not everything that happens is flu,” Dr Van Buynder says.
“But if there’s high fever, body aches, you’ve got a cough, it’s more likely, and if they were to see a doctor very early on, they could be given an antiviral medicine. We encourage them to get seen relatively quickly – it may be time for them to get some Tamiflu.”
Earlier this week NSW Health issued a warning to elderly people and those in other high risk groups that it’s not too late to be vaccinated.
NSW Health confirmed 11,262 influenza cases were reported in July from across the state.
Marked increases in presentations to emergency departments have been experienced state-wide, with over 8000 people from all age groups presenting the past week, 2000 more than at the same time last year.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said there had been close to 140 influenza outbreaks in residential aged care facilities this year and many of these would have been started by unwell visitors.