27 May 2022

Flu cases increase 'sharply' in the ACT but government not yet considering free flu vax for general population

| Lottie Twyford
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Rachel Stephen-Smith flu

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith received her flu shot late last month. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The number of flu cases in the ACT has increased sharply in recent weeks. Despite this, the Territory Government is not yet considering offering free flu vaccinations to Canberrans this winter, even though NSW and Queensland are.

According to ACT Health’s latest influenza surveillance report, 301 cases were reported to the directorate in the fortnight to 8 May 2022.

Since the beginning of the year, 361 flu cases have been reported to ACT Health. This means flu cases almost tripled in a week (in the week ending 1 May, 134 cases were notified).

Most confirmed cases (56 per cent) were in people aged between 20 and 64 years old.

Health’s report noted that a substantial proportion of notifications received in the reporting period were associated with transmission in low-risk workplaces and congregate living settings and reflect expanded testing protocols adopted by certain primary health service providers.

Chart of flu cases in the ACT by year

The influenza surveillance report for the ACT shows flu cases are spiking earlier than usual. Image: ACT Health.

Influenza cases are spiking earlier than usual, according to ACT Health.

There was little to no influenza recorded locally during 2020 and 2021 due to Australia’s international borders restrictions.

That wasn’t the case in 2019, which is generally understood to have been an extremely bad flu season for the ACT – almost 4000 flu cases were reported and 10 people died from the flu, compared to 267 confirmed cases in 2018.

Over a similar period in 2019 (1 January to 19 May), 363 notifications of influenza were reported to ACT Health.

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Canberrans have been urged to get their flu jabs, and health authorities have warned of the possibility of an extremely difficult winter if the colder months bring an expected spike in COVID-19 infections combined with a flu season.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith has previously warned of a likely wane in flu immunity because of a lack of exposure to the virus over recent years.

The peak of the ACT’s flu season is usually June to September.

And while the jab is free under the National Immunisation Program for children aged six months to under five years, people aged 65 and older, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older and people aged six months and over with underlying medical conditions, a spokesperson for ACT Health said beyond this, the jab can be provided to targeted groups at the COVID-19 Access and Sensory immunisation clinics.

However, a free immunisation program will not be rolled out more broadly in the ACT.

On Monday (23 May), the Queensland Government announced that Queenslanders would be offered a free flu vaccination for the next month.

The state is facing a severe outbreak of Influenza A, with cases now doubling every week.

Brad Hazzard

NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard Photo: Twitter.

Closer to home, the NSW Government – also facing an outbreak of its own – is looking to implement a similar program from as early as next week as flu cases soar to around 12,000.

The state’s health minister Brad Hazzard said flu had hit the state earlier and harder than it had for many years. He urged people to get the jab amid increasing pressure on the state’s health system.

In 2017 more than 650 people died in NSW from influenza-related complications.

Original Article published by Lottie Twyford on Riotact.

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