Flu alert issues by Influenza Specialist Group
The Influenza Specialist Group is today warning that high rates of influenza outbreaks have been confirmed in QLD, SA and NSW.
The Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) says that there is still time for most Australians, especially those in at-risk groups, to protect themselves and those around them.
The Australian Government’s Communicable Diseases Surveillance data shows that reported cases of influenza – most notably the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 and influenza B – have risen sharply.
The confirmed number of notifications reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) have increased by more than 200 percent since May, and is an indication that the peak flu season is now imminent in Australia.
While there was an unusually high number of diagnosed cases through Summer and Autumn 2011, four to five times the usual level, current data indicates that the main flu season will occur as usual during Winter and early Spring.
Experts are today urging people in at-risk groups and healthy Australians who wish to avoid infection to see their GP and seek vaccination now in order to protect themselves and avoid passing the infection on to others.
Prof Robert Booy, from The University of Sydney said, “Many at-risk people still don’t appreciate the particular threat that influenza poses for them by worsening existing medical conditions and predisposing to pneumonia. They are often not aware that a simple vaccination can help them guard against this potentially serious infection.”.
Prof Booy also emphasised that vaccination is necessary each year, regardless of whether changes have been made to the current vaccine formulation or not, in order to maintain an adequate level of immunity.
According to Dr Rodney Pearce, member of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and South Australian spokesperson for the Australian Medical Association (AMA) on immunisation, vaccination remains the single most effective way of protecting yourself against the infection and it is particularly important that we increase vaccination rates in the 2.2 million Australians under the age of 65 in at-risk groups who are now are eligible for free influenza vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
“Since the expansion of the Australian Government program last year, free vaccine is now available at GP clinics for people at-risk of more severe diseases including people aged 65 and over, all people over the age of 6 months with a predisposing medical condition, pregnant women and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over,” said Dr Pearce.
Predisposing medical condition inclcude:
Lung / respiratory conditions including asthma
Diabetes (and other chronic metabolic diseases)
Chronic neurological conditions including multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders Haemoglobinopathies (a range of genetically inherited disorders of red blood cell haemoglobin)
Dr Alan Hampson, OAM, Chair of the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG), believes that while vaccination is the most effective way to prevent catching influenza; if you do contract influenza there are antiviral medications available on prescription that can shorten the length and reduce the severity of the illness. However these must be taken within the first two days of contracting influenza.
“Older people and those with underlying risk conditions should consult their GP immediately about antiviral treatment if they believe that they have contracted influenza. Over-the-counter medication options only suppress the symptoms of the illness rather than treating the cause of them.
“People should realise that influenza is not like the common cold, it’s much more serious. So it is important to stay at home and rest to avoid more serious outcomes, not only for the sake of your own health, but also to avoid spreading the illness to others,” said Dr Hampson.
It is estimated that influenza and its related complications kill around 2,500 Australians in an average year. Despite this, a recent survey of 1,120 people revealed that while 82 percent of respondents recognise that even healthy people would benefit from vaccination, nearly three quarters (72%) are unsure whether they will get the vaccination, almost half (42%) have never had the vaccination and around 5,400,000 adult Australians (35%) would definitely not be seeking vaccination this year.
Influenza is characterised by a sudden onset of debilitating symptoms, which include fever, body aches and pains, fatigue, cough and headache.
The ISG advises that people who wish to protect themselves from influenza should seek vaccination now as it takes up to a full two weeks for immunity to develop.
The Australian Immunisation Handbook recommends annual influenza vaccination for all Australians over the age of six months who have n underlying risk condition, such as heart disease, kidney disease, impaired immunity or those with lung disease including asthma.
The Australian guidelines further stipulate that children under nine years receiving an influenza vaccination for the first time require two doses; administered one month apart.
Should consumers be worried about whether or not they are in one of the at-risk groups then a free, online risk assessment tool is available on the ISG’s website. It is a quick and simple questionnaire to indicate probable risk levels: http://www.isg.org.au/influenza-risk-assessment-tool.
Earlier this year, the ISG launched a new digital video to show Australians how influenza is transmitted across the world. The video forms part of a new range of online educational resources, including; consumer information brochures (translated into a range of languages) and posters now available in GP surgeries, and a YouTube channel featuring video information on the virus and advice on prevention and treatment. Visit flutube100 at http://www.youtube.com/user/flutube100 .
19 July 2011.