Influenza upswing shows flu season is far from over


Despite winter being over, flu season shows no sign of ending with an upswing in hospital presentations and another 20 deaths recorded.

Western Sydney Local Health District had 779 confirmed new influenza cases in the week ending August 25 – the highest number of new cases in NSW.

NSW Health’s Director of Communicable Disease, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said latest figures show children aged five to nine years have been particularly affected, with a rise in influenza B virus cases.

“The extended period of influenza activity in 2019 has seen high numbers of presentations to hospital emergency departments, with over 245,000 presentations to NSW emergency departments for respiratory conditions this year, compared to 198,000 to this time in 2018 and 222,000 in 2017,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“While activity in most parts of the state is stable, the past week saw an increase in notifications in the Hunter New England, Southern and Murrumbidgee regions.

“Even though spring is around the corner, we urge people not to be complacent, particularly parents of young children, and to take simple hygiene precautions to avoid becoming an influenza statistic.”

The latest weekly Influenza Surveillance Report shows 5549 flu cases for the week ending 25 August, down from 5800 notifications the previous week but taking the yearly total to 90,409.

Unusually high influenza activity over summer and the early start to the winter flu season have contributed to high numbers of notifications this year.

There have been 20 additional deaths reported this week in people aged over 50 years, bringing the annual total to 188 deaths.

With the upswing in flu cases, NSW Health is again reminding people to consider all available options such as their local GP, medical centre or pharmacy if their illness is not an emergency.

“We have seen an increase in people presenting to our already very busy emergency departments because of flu, but most have not been severe cases and did not require hospital admission.”

“To stop the spread of flu, stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands regularly and cover coughs and sneezes. And as strange as it sounds, it’s still not too late to vaccinate,” Dr Sheppeard said.

More than 2.5 million doses of Government-funded flu vaccines have been distributed across NSW, including over 214,000 doses for children six months to three years, and 1.18 million doses for people 65 years and over. Eligible people who have not yet had their shot can still get it for free.

People aged 65 and over, pregnant women, Aboriginal people and people with medical conditions that put them at greater risk of flu are all eligible under the National Immunisation Program. The free state-funded vaccine is available to all children aged six months to five years.

The NSW Government will invest about $130 million in the 2019-20 Immunisation Program budget, including Commonwealth and state vaccines, including $2.6 million free flu shots to children up to five years of age and a $1.5 million immunisation and influenza awareness.