Australia’s flu season peaks

It’s the first week of spring, and Australia has just reached the peak of its flu season.


Reported cases of influenza have sky-rocketed over the past five years.


Health experts say while 2015 is a bad year, there is no cause for panic if people take a few simple measures.

Oliver Heath is your typical, bubbly two-year old boy.


And, typically, when he came down with a high fever last week, his mum was worried.


The diagnosis from his GP was swine flu.


Saira Heath says the news sent shockwaves down her spine.


“Well I panicked when I heard it was swine flu just obviously because of what you hear on tv and things…ah she told me not to be too concerned, it’s just another stream of the flu. She said to me if he’d had the flu vaccination he wouldn’t have got influenza A.”


After a quick jab from his doctor, Ollie is now well on the way to recovery.


But infectious disease expert Professor Robert Booy says it’s been a significant flu season this year.


“Swine flu is influenza AH1. It’s one of the four strains of influenza circulating. They all cause a severe syndrome in a minority of people who are at high risk – that includes the very young, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases and the elderly.”


Sydney GP Doctor Douglas Hor says he has also noticed a greater number of cases this season.


“We’re seeing more instances of flu than normal, we seem to be seeing not drastically large numbers – I think other areas have got more flu prevalence. We vaccinate a lot of our at-risk patients here, so we are probably seeing a lesser number than other areas.”


It got so bad in South Australia last month, that hospitals had to cancel non-elective surgeries as flu-related admissions soared.


In a peak year like this year, influenza contributes to the deaths of more than 3,000 Australians.


The number of reported cases in each state is already higher than they were at the end of 2010: with Queensland’s numbers increasing five-fold in just five years to more than 18,000 cases.


It’s a spike in notifications for all states and territories except for the Top End.


But Professor Booy say those inflated figures are no cause for panic.


“Everywhere is doing more testing than we used to do for influenza, so we are finding it more. Not because it’s more common particularly but because we are testing more – so it’s not really out of the ordinary.”


With flu season having just hit its peak, it’s now become too late to be vaccinated, with jabs taking two weeks before kicking in.


Doctor Hor explains there are many other strategies people can take to get by unscathed.


“Don’t spread the germs. If you are coughing and spluttering, use a disposable tissue, use it and throw it out. Wash your hands thoroughly, don’t catch public transport if you are coughing and spluttering. And if you are feeling the bad effects of the flu go and see your local GP.”


Saira Heath says Ollie’s brush with swine flu is a lesson to all people and parents ahead of the next flu season.


“Definitely I think get the flu vaccination, and also take them to the doctors, and if the doctor just says it’s viral and they can’t treat it to perhaps get them to do a mouth swab and just get them tested – I would have just thought he had the flu and he would have got better.”