Flu season starts – vaccinate now to beat the bug

RN Angela Vbesic receives a flu shot from immuniser Jaspreet Jaspreet at the
at Blacktown Hospital during a mass staff vaccination clinic last week.

With the official start of the winter flu season, NSW Health is urging people to get their flu jab as soon as possible to protect themselves against the potentially deadly infection.

Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) currently has the highest flu incident rate in the state, with around 18 confirmed cases per 100,000 people.

For the week ending May 12 there were 855 emergency department presentations and 192 confirmed influenza cases across the district. This is significantly above the usual range for this time of year.

Blaktown Hospital nurses Erin Smith, Hyacinth Gaabucayan, Jacquelyn Santos, Alyssa Rae and Jess Castillo wait in the recovery area after receiving their flu vaccination last week.

WSLHD is doing its bit to prepare for the flu season, with 5,462 staff receiving the flu shot so far as of May 17.

NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said flu vaccines are now available at GPs, Aboriginal Medical Services, and for children, at most council and community health services that routinely provide childhood vaccination services.

“Vaccination is your best protection against the flu, so we encourage everyone who can to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“We’ve seen abnormally high numbers of reported flu cases across Australia over the warmer months leading into winter, so we are urging people to act now and get vaccinated.

WSLHD immunisation control team members Valerie Hunter, Hayley Carra, Dr Shopna Bag, Dr Adrian Ong and Nicole Tolhurst.

“It’s important to act now because it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective, and children under nine years of age having the shot for the first time require two doses, one month apart.”

The first of the 2019 weekly Influenza Surveillance Reports shows that the flu season has commenced early in the year, with 856 confirmed flu cases for the week ending 12 May, higher than the 812 notifications in the previous week.

“There are plentiful supplies of influenza vaccine and we urge parents of children under 5 years of age and others vulnerable to influenza to visit their GP as soon as possible,” she said.

Dr Paul Savage was all smiles while getting his flu shot from RN Lisa Irvine at Blacktown Hospital.

The NSW Government is spending a record $22.75 million on statewide immunisation programs which will assist with flu prevention this season. This includes $2.6 million for free flu shots to children up to five years of age and a $1.5 million immunisation and influenza awareness campaign.

The NSW Government has invested approximately $130 million in the 2018-19 Immunisation Program budget, including Commonwealth and state vaccines.

Flu shots are also free under the National Immunisation Program, for pregnant women, people over 65 years of age, Aboriginal people and those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart problems.

Flu vaccine immuniser Gaile Heron delivers a dose to Corporate Communications specialist Jara Pinheiro at the Westmead Hospital mass flu vaccination staff clinic last week.

Vaccination is the best protection against the flu, but the following steps also help prevent the spread of influenza:

  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow
  • Clean your hands
  • Stay home when sick

“We urge everyone to get the flu jab to build immunity in the community and beat the flu bug this winter – it could save your life,” Dr Sheppeard said.

NSW Health is closely monitoring flu case numbers and issuing an Influenza Surveillance Weekly Report every Friday to keep the community up to date on influenza activity.