Last days for flu jabs

Australians have less than a week to get the flu vaccination if they want protection, an expert says

“Flu is here,” says Professor Robert Booy, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Sydney and the Head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation and Surveillance.

“You’ve got less than a week if you want to get vaccinated, otherwise you will be exposed to the flu before the vaccination can be effective, as it takes 10 days to work.”

The 2017 flu season has already kicked off, he says: last week NSW Health reported that 8% of tests collected from people with respiratory symptoms were shown to have flu, compared to around 4% between the seasons.

“We know flu is on the rise,” he says. “The peak of the season will be in about six weeks – that’s in early August. During the peak of the season, you might see as many as 16% of samples collected testing positive for flu.”

While the number of cases so far this year is higher than that reported this time last year, it doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that 2017 will be (or already is) a worse flu season.

“Every year we get better at testing for flu,” Prof Booy says. “Queensland is especially good at it. It’s easy to just say, ‘Queensland gets more flu’ but that’s wrong: they do more testing.

“So more flu notifications than last year don’t mean a big difference as it may be a reflection of efficient GPs doing more testing for flu.”

Health Department figures show that to the start of 19 June 2017, there had been a total of 15,564 laboratory confirmed notifications of influenza for 2017. This compared to 13,132 at the end of June 2016.

In 2017, Queensland has seen the most notifications at 5,099, with NSW next at 4,712.

At this stage, as well as vaccinating the last few customers, Prof Booy encourages pharmacists to “keep up the good work” and continue to advise on other preventive strategies.

“Pharmacists are great at giving advice,” he says. “What they can do is advise the very sensible things, like distancing yourself from someone with symptoms; if you’ve got symptoms yourself you can spend a day or two on sick leave but may also be able to work from home, so you don’t have to ruin your productivity.

“You can wash your hands at least five times a day for at least 20 seconds. If you want to sneeze or blow your nose, use a tissue and discard it; and smile at people, don’t shake their hands.”

Pharmacists can also help undo damage caused by advertising which suggested that upon vaccination, consumers are safe from contacting respiratory illnesses.

“The flu jab takes 10 days to work, so you’re not protected from day one of your injection.

“And there are six viruses that cause flu-like illness, and only one is influenza. It might be the most severe, but you can still catch those five other viruses.”

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