The unexpected increase in flu cases across the country has prompted health authorities in South Australia to start early distribution of free vaccines in an effort to stop the spread.
- The number of flu has begun to rise during the summer, much earlier than expected
- South Australia leads the trend per capita, and cases are almost quadrupled
- Free vaccines are distributed earlier than expected
Since the beginning of 2019 there have been more than 26,000 confirmed cases of flu, which is significantly more than in previous years.
New South Wales and Queensland had more than 7,000 since the beginning of January.
However, South Australia leads the trend per capita, with nearly 4,485 cases compared to 1,139 at the same time last year.
"Normally, at this time of year, it's relatively silent for flu, so this is a very big year," said Professor Ian Barr, a professor at the World Health Organization.
The distribution of free vaccine for people aged 65 and older has already started in South Australia, while the distribution for children under the age of five and all other eligible groups began on Monday.
"Winter Demand Management Strategy – I've never heard it released before Easter," said Minister of Health Stephen Wade.
"About 90,000 South Australian children will have access to free influenza vaccination through a state program."
Only in the last week in South Australia over 1,000 cases of flu have been reported.
"Although it is not possible to predict the severity of the flu season, it is important that the community continues to be cautious," Dr. Louise Flood, MD, said.
Eliminating and dying of elderly people with flu
For many patients, flu causes moderate symptoms that make it easy after a few days, but for others it can lead to severe illness, and sometimes even lethal.
A small child died last month in Victoria because of what health authorities described as one of the biggest outbreaks of summer flu seen by the state.
During January and February there were seven deaths reported in NSW Health – all linked to flu epidemics in elderly care institutions.
"So far, we have had one death this year … and we had 12 outbreaks in elderly care facilities," Dr. Flood said of the situation in South Australia.
"I call on everyone to contact their GP or immunization provider to get a flu shot, especially those in risk groups such as small children, people over the age of 65 and pregnant women who can be vaccinated free."
Dr. Flood says people with existing health conditions and indigenous Australians also feel more risky.
The federal health department said vaccines would be available through the National Immunization Program from mid-April, "subject to local distribution agreements".
The scientist is "shocked" start seasoning in the summer
President of the Immunization Coalition Professor Robert Booy, a researcher at the University of Sydney, said that several states began implementing their own vaccination programs.
"New South Wales has also released free vaccinations in recent weeks so they are doing it early," he said.
"I've been watching flu in Australia for 15 years and I have never seen such an early start."
"It's a shock, it's definitely a real surprise. We did not expect that."
The distribution of free vaccines to GPs and other service providers is also underway in Victoria, while Queensland authorities have also begun to encourage locals to vaccinate.
*number from April 8th. Source: Coalition for Immunization
Professor Booy said the early wave has started in the tropics in the early summer, and can be guided by global trends and tourism.
"It's all gone to the east coast of Australia, and the figure continues to increase in the last three months," he said.
"We can only conclude that we have received many infections from abroad.
"Last year we had such a silent flu season that we did not build much immunity to new strains, so immunity to the previous species collapsed."