Western Sydney public health expert: flu on the decline but remain vigilant

Flu activity across NSW is decreasing, but Western Sydney Local Health District’s public health unit director Dr Shopna Bag has advised the community to remain vigilant.

Dr Bag said that in the last week there were more than 1,000 cases of the flu reported in western Sydney alone – the highest number of cases in NSW.

“Thankfully we are seeing a drop in flu numbers in our area, but we are still seeing outbreaks occurring in aged care centres,” Dr Bag said.

“People who are being cared for in aged care centres and hospitals are highly vulnerable. Community members need to avoid visiting these facilities if they are unwell.”

NSW Health’s director of communicable diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard said there have been 11 additional deaths in people aged over 60 years across the state.

“This brings the annual total to 90 deaths,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“In the year to date, there have been 178 confirmed influenza outbreaks in aged-care facilities, 24 of which were reported this week.

Dr Shopna Bag is the director of the public health unit at Western Sydney Local Health District.

“Elderly people often have complex conditions that are aggravated by influenza, so while we know it is important to visit family and friends in aged-care facilities, if you are sick with the flu we are asking people to stay home until you have recovered.”

The latest weekly Influenza Surveillance Report shows 5400 flu cases for the week ending 21 July, down from 6,779 notifications the previous week, taking the yearly total to 65,913.

“The flu is still about so it is important people remember to take steps to minimise its spread,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“People should cover their coughs and sneezes, wash their hands thoroughly and stay home if they are ill. Remember, vaccination is still your best protection and it is not too late to have a flu shot.”

Dr Sheppeard said 2.47 million doses of Government-funded flu vaccines have been distributed across NSW, including over 199,000 doses for children six months to three years, and 1.18 million doses for people 65 years and over. A free vaccine is still available for eligible people who have not yet had their shot.

Flu shots are 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.

The NSW Government continues a strong investment on statewide immunisation programs including $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 will invest about $130 million in the 2019-20 Immunisation Program budget, including Commonwealth and state vaccines.