Experts have warned that flu season could have potentially ‘deadly’ consequences, with a recent report revealing young Australians are most at risk.
The Australian Flu Surveillance Report confirms an early spike in flu cases this year.
The flu season started early, with illness increasing a month before the seasonal reporting period even began.
So far this year, 87,989 cases of influenza have been reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System in Australia. More than 54% of these flu cases were diagnosed in the past two weeks.
Over the past two months, the number of confirmed influenza cases per week has exceeded the five-year average.
According to the report published by the Ministry of Health, 733 people have been hospitalized for the flu since April.
The report found that young people under the age of 19 were the hardest hit by the flu and made up more than half of the hospitalization rate. The Department of Health noted that young people were a “risk population” for the flu.
Tragically, the report noted that 27 people had died of influenza-related causes.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Sonya Bennett noted that Australia was battling the twin threats of flu season and the pandemic.
“Over the past two years, flu cases have been very low in Australia due to international travel restrictions and a range of other measures such as social distancing and the wearing of masks, but with the restrictions now eased, flu cases increase,” she said in a statement. .
A Health Ministry spokesperson warned people that the flu is highly contagious and can produce severe symptoms.
“Influenza can affect anyone, but it is particularly serious and potentially fatal for population groups at risk,” they said.
Different demographics may also be more affected by certain strains of the flu, the spokesperson said.
Dr Bennett said it would be difficult to predict when the number of flu cases might rise and urged people to protect themselves with a vaccine.
“Annual vaccination is the most important measure to prevent influenza and its complications,” she said.
She said vaccinations help protect against infection or developing more serious disease.
Dr. Bennett noted that vaccination rates were lower than in previous years for children under five, one of the demographics hardest hit by the flu season.
She also encouraged people to continue applying the same prevention measures used during the pandemic, including washing hands regularly, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a face mask and staying home if unwell.
The Australian government offers free flu shots to pregnant women, First Nations people, people with certain medical conditions, children under six and adults over 65.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan said it was “completely safe” for pregnant women to get a flu shot.
“There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the vaccine can protect you and your baby, and no evidence to suggest that there are any adverse effects associated with flu vaccination during pregnancy,” she said.
All residents of NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania can also access free flu shots through a doctor or pharmacy.
“Now is the time to do it,” said Professor McMillan.
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