Queenslanders are being urged to become flu fighters and get vaccinated as soon as possible as the number of influenza cases across the State increases.
Across the State more than 9,100 cases of flu have already been confirmed in 2019.
Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services Steven Miles said the high number of people already struck down by flu highlights the importance of annual vaccination.
“Our summer flu numbers are the highest they have been in five years,” Mr Miles said.
“We had a fairly mild flu season last year with around 15,500 confirmed cases. Our flu numbers this year are already over half that.
“While these figures do not necessarily predict the severity of traditional flu season ahead, they are concerning enough to encourage everyone to act now and protect themselves against the flu.
“A flu shot is still the best way to avoid getting sick and ending up in hospital.”
Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Director Infectious Diseases Unit Dr Krispin Hajkowicz said that in the first three months of this year, Queensland’s public hospital emergency departments have seen 5,998 patients with flu like illness.
“We had a horror flu season in 2017 when more than 56,500 Queenslanders were diagnosed with influenza. That number fell in 2018, but flu cases this year are already up on what they were compared with the same time last year,” Dr Hajkowicz said
“There could be more cases in the community with people who may not be so sick as to go to the doctor or who may not have been tested.
“We’ve seen 2,100 people with flu-like symptoms come through our busy Metro North emergency departments alone.”
Dr Hajkowicz said Metro North’s Infection Control Teams have been busy providing free flu jabs to staff, volunteers and QAS staff, with thousands of staff already vaccinated.
“We’re on the frontline of the fight against flu and are leading by example.
“Our healthcare staff do a terrific job, but additional and sometimes unnecessary presentations in our hospitals during traditionally busy winter months can place an additional strain on resources.
“Flu is a serious illness that can lead to complications, particularly in the very young, elderly and people with complex chronic diseases.
“It can strike at any time and protection diminishes over time so we encourage everyone to get a flu shot as soon as possible to protect yourself and your family from getting ill and from spreading it to more vulnerable groups like the elderly.
“To avoid a trip to hospital, make an appointment with your GP or pharmacist now to ensure your family’s vaccinations are up to date.
“It just takes a few minutes of your time and prevents the possibility of becoming very sick if you catch the flu.”
Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) Metro North Assistant Commissioner Stephen Zsombok said the flu vaccine ensures you’re protecting yourself and your family.
“Historically, we see a strong correlation between the flu season and an increase in demand for QAS services and we’re expecting the same for the 2019 season,” Assistant Commissioner Zsombok said.
“It is anticipated the QAS will likely see an increase in demand of between six and 10 per cent in 2019. In recent years this has equated to between 6,000 to 9,000 additional incidents per month in the peak of the flu season.”
In Queensland, the flu season is typically from June to September, with a peak around August. The flu vaccine isn’t immediately effective; it generally takes 10 to 14 days to be fully protected after vaccination.
The Queensland Government funds a Childhood Influenza Program for all children aged from six months to under five years. Additionally, a Commonwealth-funded free vaccination program is available to eligible people, including:
pregnant women during any stage of pregnancy
people 65 years of age or older
all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people six months of age and older
people six months of age or older who have certain medical conditions which increase the risk of influenza disease complications.
All other Queenslanders can purchase the flu vaccine from their doctor or immunisation provider.
Flu is a serious viral illness that mainly affects the upper airways and lungs. It is not the same as a common cold and can lead to serious complications, particularly in the very young, elderly and people with complex chronic diseases.
Flu symptoms usually appear 1–3 days after a person becomes infected. A person can spread flu to others 1–2 days before they become unwell and up to 5 days after symptoms develop.
Typical flu symptoms include fever, cough, muscle aches and pains, nasal congestion, headache, sore throat and fatigue.
Annual vaccination in recommended as different strains of flu virus can change from year to year. This protects you against the most recent flu virus strains that maybe around.
The 2019 seasonal influenza vaccines are:
A (H1N1): an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09 like virus
A (H3N2): an A/Switzerland/8060/2017 (H3N2) like virus
B: a B/Colorado/06/2017 like virus (not included in the trivalent vaccine)
B: a B/Phuket/3073/2013 like virus
Simple tips to prevent the flu include:
See your GP or pharmacist to arrange a flu shot (Hospitals do not provide flu vaccines to the public – do not go to an emergency department for a flu shot)
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others; stay at home from work, childcare, school and avoid other crowded areas. This will help protect others from catching your illness.
Wash your hands frequently and properly, which will help protect you from germs that are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. Remember wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Dispose of used tissues and wash your hands immediately afterwards.
Flu statistics, year to date (From 1 January 2019 – 26 April 2019):
Total Influenza notifications - 9124
Hospitalisations - 766
ICU admissions – 67