Australians have been warned to brace themselves for winter as new data reveals influenza cases have increased by 15 percent in the past two weeks.
University of Queensland infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist Paul Griffin told NCA NewsWire that what Australia was experiencing with the flu was “truly unique” as cases continued to rise in June.
“It’s not what we’d normally see in terms of the usual seasonality,” he said. “We’ve seen a sharp increase in cases, and given the population susceptibility, the impact of those cases has also been greater.
“Normally, we would see the onset of the flu season a little bit lighter and not as properly increased as what we‘ve seen this year with an increase in hospitalization and severe consequences.”
Camera IconUniversity of Queensland infectious diseases physician Paul Griffin warned Australians about the risks of not vaccinating. Supplied. Credit: NCA NewsWire
According to the latest federal Department of Health data, there have been more than 55,000 flu cases in the last reporting fortnight, bringing the total to almost 150,000 cases this year.
Despite most states offering free shots in June, vaccination is lower than the 13.2 million doses in 2019 and the record 18 million administered in 2020.
So far this year, 54 people have died from flu-associated deaths.
Over the past fortnight, 989 people have been admitted to the hospital for the flu, with 5 percent of these hospitalizations being admitted directly to the ICU.
Experts warn that these numbers are likely underestimates given many GPs are still reluctant to see patients with respiratory symptoms, which raises questions about testing rates for flu this year.
“I think if there are any barriers that GPs cannot see people with symptoms, that contributes to making some of these challenges worse. We need to address that,” Professor Griffin said.
“We know we can protect our staff with vaccination; even though the mask mandates are relaxed, we can use masks to protect our staff and do things to address other risk factors for transmission, such as ventilation.”
Camera Icon Parents are urged to vaccinate their children against the flu. Supplied Credit: istock
Parents have been warned to vaccinate their children. The latest data from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance and the Australian Immunisation Register reveals that rates are lowest among children aged 15 and under.
“One of the biggest differences between Covid and the flu is that children don’t contribute all that much to the spread of Covid and very, fortunately, have a low rate of severe disease, but that is very different with influenza.” Professor Griffin said.
“Now we’re seeing quite high case numbers in those groups, they are responsible for a lot of transmissions, and they can get very serious sickness from the flu.
“It is disappointing that our vaccination rates in those groups remain low when we have a flu vaccine available for everybody from six months of age.”