NSW Health figures show Hunter New England area flu notifications almost three times higher than last year

BLESS YOU: This August saw almost three times as many flu cases as the same month last year.
BLESS YOU: This August saw almost three times as many flu cases as the same month last year.

A MILD winter could be to blame for this year’s huge flu season.

The region was hit hard by influenza this year with a huge spike in August.

There were more 6249 notifications of influenza A and B strains in the Hunter New England Local Health District this year, in August alone.

In contrast, this was almost tripled the amount of notifications in the same month last year (2776).

Hunter New England public health physician Dr David Durrheim said there could be a number of factors behind the spike in flu numbers.

“The season started earlier,” Dr Durrheim said.

Hunter New England public health physician Dr David Durrheim.

Hunter New England public health physician Dr David Durrheim.

“It was a very mild winter so maybe people were out socialising more.

“Also, lab testing is much easier.”

Referring to online resource, flutracking.net, Dr Durrheim said this year’s flu season didn’t reach the same levels as 2009, which he described as a “pandemic year”.

According to the website’s report for the last week of August, “fever, cough and absence from normal duties was reported by 2.3 per cent of vaccinated participants and three per cent of unvaccinated participants”.

The worst of the 2017 appears to be over, with the number of cases coming down in the last two weeks.

However, Dr Durrheim said there would still be new cases coming through and encouraged people to take precautions.

Tamworth GP Dr Casey Sullivan said it was important for people not to soldier-on at work if they have flu-like symptoms, even as the season tapers-off.

Tamworth GP Dr Casey Sullivan. Photo: Gareth Gardner

Tamworth GP Dr Casey Sullivan. Photo: Gareth Gardner

“We have had a large influx of patients this season with four strains of influenza being present which explains the increase in notifications,” Dr Sullivan said.

“It is also important that people don't battle-on and continue at school, work or daycare as this increases the spread of influenza. 

“Stay home, stay hydrated and use symptom control to manage the influenza infection.” As the region hopefully says farewell to the snottiest-section of the year, the region’s medicos say vaccination is key to getting on top of next year’s flu season.

“GP clinics will usually release with enough time to cover the flu season, if you are vaccinated too early you may actually get the flu once the vaccination has worn-off,” Dr Sullivan said.

“The flu vaccination will cover you for about three months – the most important months being June, July and August.”

More testing done

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said the flu notifications increased this season by almost 50 per cent compared to last year, largely due to the increasing use of more sensitive tests by GPs and emergency departments.

Around 250,000 flu tests have been conducted in NSW so far this year compared to 149,000 over the same period last year and just 16,000 flu tests over the same period in 2010.

“Our rate of testing for flu in NSW has increased dramatically since 2010 and we now have the most sophisticated flu surveillance system in Australia,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“We’ve been adopting new and better testing techniques following the last recorded pandemic in 2009, which enable accurate diagnosis and early treatment with the appropriate use of antiviral drugs.”