Flu numbers already at six-year high in parts of Australia

A free vaccination will be available for over-65s later this month. Source: Getty

Winter is not yet officially here but thousands of people are already feeling the impact of the flu.

According to The Advertiser, influenza numbers are at a six-year high in South Australia, before the cooler weather has even kicked in. In fact, flu numbers in the state are already up 12 per cent from last year’s deadly flu. Despite warmer weather conditions, 970 cases of the flu have already been confirmed.

It’s a similar story in Queensland, where 36 people a day are catching the flu. That means before the winter season has even begun, more than 3,000 people have felt the impact of the illness, SBS News reports.

Last year’s flu season was one of the worst in Australia’s history, infecting more than 71,000 people across the country. Queensland and New South Wales were hit the hardest, but South Australia and Victoria also felt the effects. Seven elderly people in an aged care facility died as a result of their extreme symptoms, while other Australians took longer than normal to overcome their symptoms.

In response, the government will release a turbo-charged vaccine specifically for people over the age of 65. It will be available later this month and will be free of charge. Speaking to Starts at 60 recently, Australian Medical Association Vice President Dr Tony Bartone explained that it was important for older Australians to wait for the new vaccine to become available.

Read more: AMA warns against early flu vaccine for over-60s

“The government hasn’t released the stocks for that and that will be released in mid-April or just after. It’s free and it’s part of the annual vaccination program for the over-65s,” Bartone said.

The new vaccine is different from the regular vaccine because it is specifically designed to protect older Australians after that group the suffered the worst in last year’s wave of illness.

“[The inoculations] are either higher dose versions of the flu vaccine or something that has a little bit of an extra turbo-charger in terms of increasing the effect of the standard dose in the vaccine,” Bartone said. “So they’re specifically targeting the elderly, which was found to take the brunt of last year’s flu epidemic and specifically targeting influenza A subtypes, which were the major cause of the strain of influenza last year.”

As described by the AMA, two new vaccines are set to become available. The first is Fluad, while the second is known as Fluzone High Dose. Both are said to bolster the immune system, while normal injections will still be available for people under 65 as well.

The protection provided by most vaccines does have an expiration date, with Bartone noting most people are protected for around four months after getting their injection.

“We know that vaccination will give you a good three to four months protection from that current strain of influenza that it’s trying to protect from. It will give you some ongoing protection after that, but it tends to wane,”  he said. “Over-60s are most prone to risk to the effects of influenza, so it makes sense to ensure that they’re protection is maximal right up to peak of the season, which can be August or September.”

Speak to your local GP or health professional to find out when the vaccine will be available to you. People who are not 65-plus but suffer chronic health conditions may also be eligible for a free jab.

What do you think? Were you impacted by the flu last year? Have you had your injection yet?

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