Flu warning issued as reported cases soar

Reported cases of influenza have sky-rocketed over the past five years, and this year has been one of the worst.



One of the most recent sufferers was two year old Oliver Heath, whose high fever and heavy sleep patterns had his mother Saira thinking it was nothing but the common cold.

After heading to her local GP, Mrs Heath found out she was wrong.

“Well, I panicked when I heard it was swine flu,” she said.

“But she told me not to be too concerned; it’s just another stream of the flu. If he had of had the flu vaccination he wouldn’t have got influenza A.”

Ollie is now on his way to recovery, but infectious disease experts say it’s been a significant flu season.

Swine flu is only one of four strains of influenza circulating, according to Robert Booy from the University of Sydney.

Professor Booy said they all cause a severe syndrome in a minority of people who are high risk.

“That includes the very young, pregnant women, people with chronic diseases and the elderly,” he said.

Sydney GP Douglas Hor said 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,” Dr Hor said.

“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.”

In South Australia last month, hospitals had to cancel non-elective surgeries as flu-related admissions soared.

According to Health Department figures, in a peak year like this year influenza contributes to the deaths of more than 3000 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 Northern Territory, but specialists 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,” Professor Booy said.

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

Dr Hor said that there are many other strategies people can take to get by unscathed.

“Don’t spread the germs,” he said.

“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.”