New figures that show Australia is experiencing a particularly bad flu season – with cases up by over 50% in 2015 compared to the same time last year – have prompted Minister for Health Sussan Ley to urge people to get their flu shots.
Minister Ley says that 14,124 flu cases have been reported so far this year across Australia as compared to 9,258 cases at the same time in 2014, including almost 2,000 cases in the past week.
Late last month the Influenza Specialist Group also called for Australians to vaccinate, stating that this flu season was already unusually severe, yet 20% of people who had intended to get a flu shot this year were still unprotected.
A third of these people said this was because they could not get a suitable GP appointment, or that the vaccine was not available at their GP.
Minister Ley says vaccination is the most effective way to protect against the flu, which contributes to more than 3,000 Australian deaths annually.
“Last year’s flu season was one of the worst on record and we have already seen a 50% increase or almost 5,000 additional cases across Australia so far this year,” Minister Ley says.
“The more people who are vaccinated, the less chance the illness spreads throughout the rest of the community. This is particularly true for those Australians who are ill, vulnerable, pregnant or elderly.
“The message is simple – get your flu shot before the flu gets you this winter.”
She says that so far this year 4.5 million doses of flu vaccination have been bought under the National Immunisation Program, which is 200,000 more than were distributed in 2014.
“The peak period for the flu season is regularly between August and September and with most people usually taking up to three weeks to develop immunity following their flu shot now is the time to go your flu jab,” the Minister says.
“The vaccine not only reduces the chance of getting the flu but it also minimises the severity, complications and hospitalisations if you do.”
The Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Baggoley highlighted the fact that people who had the seasonal flu vaccine in 2014 still need to have it in 2015, particularly this year following a rare double strain change in the vaccine.
Prof Baggoley says the unusual double strain is consistent with national and international advice.
“Each year the vaccine contains three virus strains. The 2015 vaccine contains new virus strains which are different to last year’s to ensure Australians were protected against the most likely strains,” Prof Baggoley says.
“Flu is highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person, through the air, and on the hands.”
Prof Baggoley specifically encouraged people at risk, including older people, pregnant women, Indigenous Australians and people with chronic conditions such as cardiac disease, chronic respiratory conditions and chronic illnesses to take advantage of the free vaccine, and to do so now.
“We need to get higher uptake among these groups – immunisation is still the best form of protection from influenza and healthcare professionals play an essential role in ensuring high uptake,” Prof Baggoley says.
National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System data shows that the 2015 flu season has seen 14,124 cases of flu notified, compared to 9.258 in 2014, 5,250 in 2013 and 11,061 in 2012.