HEALTH experts on January 4 urged Queenslanders to remain vigilant and practice good hygiene, with summer flu numbers at the highest they have been in the past five years.
Queensland Health’s Jonathan Malo said while Queensland was on track to record a five-year low in influenza cases, confirmed cases in November and December 2018 were unusually high.
“During 2018 we had a mild flu season – not only did we avoid a repeat of 2017, which was one of the worst years for flu on record, but we are set to report the lowest number of cases since 2013,” Dr Malo said.
“However, we have seen an increase in the number of confirmed cases usually reported for this time of year.
“While the flu is always circulating in our community, there were 1,361 confirmed cases in November 2018, compared to an average of 645 confirmed cases for the same period in the previous five years.
“In December 2018 there were 2028 confirmed cases, compared to an average of 534 confirmed cases for the same period in the previous five years.”
Former Rural Doctors Association president Dr Michael Rice from the Beaudesert Medical Centre said he knew the infection had a second peak in mid-December but people should not assume they had the flu if they feel unwell or had flu-like symptoms.
“For the past 12 months we have seen a lot less flu than we did in 2017,” he said.
“I have not observed (summer) influenza but I have seen more people lately with an infection called rhinovirus, which is from the group of viruses that cause the common cold.
“This is a particularly nasty infection that can last for weeks or even months but it’s not the flu.”
Dr Rice said the dramatic drop in flu cases last year was likely due in part to so many people getting vaccinated that the nation even ran out of vaccines and had to get more.
He offered advice on how to help prevent the spread of colds and flu.
“I encourage people to practise good hand hygiene, cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough and just stay at home if they feel unwell,” Dr Rice said.
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Dr Malo said the lead up to flu season was no time to drop the ball on vaccination.
“We must remain vigilant during 2019 because, as we’ve seen in the past, flu can occur at any time of the year and every flu season can be different,” he said.
“It’s also important for pregnant women to get vaccinated against flu at any time of the year to protect themselves and their newborns.
Dr Malo said while the number of confirmed cases in November and December of 2018 was higher than usual, Queensland reported the lowest number of cases in 2018 since 2013.
“More than 15,500 cases were confirmed for 2018, well down on previous years, including 2017 when more than 56,500 cases were notified,” Dr Malo said.
“Queensland Health continues to offer free flu vaccine for children aged six months to less than five years old, one of the groups most susceptible to flu.
“There was extraordinarily high demand for the vaccine by people of all ages last year and that is what we want to see because vaccination is by far the best protection against influenza.”