Experts have warned that the flu season could have potentially “life-threatening” consequences, with a recent report revealing young Australians are the most at risk.
The Australian Influenza Surveillance Report confirms an early spike in flu cases this year.
The flu season began early, with illness increasing a month before the seasonal reporting period even began.
So far this year there have been 87,989 influenza cases reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System in Australia. More than 54 per cent of those flu cases were diagnosed within the last two weeks.
For the past two months, the number of confirmed flu cases per week has exceeded the five-year average.
According to the report issued by the Department of Health, 733 people have been hospitalised with the flu since April.
The report found that young people under 19 years old were hardest hit by the flu and constituted more than half of the hospitalisation rate. The Department of Health noted that young people were an “at-risk population” for the flu.
Tragically, the report noted 27 people had died due to flu-associated causes.
Acting chief medical officer Sonya Bennett noted that Australia was battling the double threat of the flu season and the pandemic.
“Over the past two years influenza cases were very low in Australia because of limitations on international travel and a range of other measures such as social distancing and mask wearing, but with restrictions now eased, influenza cases are rising,” she said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health warned people that the flu was highly contagious and could produce severe symptoms.
“Influenza can affect anyone but is especially serious and potentially life-threatening for at-risk population groups,” they said.
Different demographics could also be more affected by certain strains of the flu, the spokesperson said.
Dr Bennett said it would be difficult to predict when the number of flu cases could spike and urged people to protect themselves with a vaccine.
“Annual vaccination is the most important measure to prevent influenza and its complications,” she said.
She said vaccinations helped protect against infection or developing a more severe disease.
Dr Bennett remarked that vaccination rates were lower than previous years for children under five, one of the demographics hardest hit by the flu season.
She also encouraged people to continue to exercise the same prevention measures used during the pandemic, including regular hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a face mask and remaining at home when unwell.
The Australian government provides free flu vaccinations for pregnant women, First Nations people, people with certain medical conditions, children under six years old and adults over 65 years old.
Australia’s chief nursing and midwifery officer Alison McMillan said it was “definitely safe” for pregnant women to have a flu vaccination.
“There’s lots of evidence to suggest the vaccine can protect you and your baby and no evidence to suggest that there’s any adverse effects associated with the flu vaccination during pregnancy,” she said.
All residents in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania can also access free flu vaccinations through a doctor or pharmacy.
“Now is the time to get it done,” Professor McMillan said.