From ABC News Australia
By Frances BellPosted TueTuesday 18 JunJune 2019 at 5:44pm, updated WedWednesday 19 JunJune 2019 at 12:23pm
There has been a massive spike in the number of influenza cases in Western Australia, with 3,000 extra notifications and 14 deaths in the past week alone.
- WA flu notifications in 2019 have spiked to levels that dwarf previous years
- Experts say a relatively benign 2018 flu season has left the state vulnerable
- There has been a huge demand for flu vaccines as people rush to immunise
The WA Health Department’s weekly snapshot of influenza data shows 29 people are reported to have died from flu-related illnesses so far this year, up from 15 a week ago.
There have been 9,016 laboratory-confirmed influenza notifications this year to date, up from 5,777 at the same time last week and compared to 1,399 at the same time last year.
More than 12 per cent of those cases were children aged between five and nine.
WA Health Department director of communicable diseases Paul Armstrong told ABC News the increase in notifications reflected an unusually early start to the flu season.
“The last time we had such an early start to the influenza season was in 1998,” he said.
Dr Armstrong said most of the people who died in the past week were aged over 80.
“Influenza often goes through nursing homes quite rapidly, we have outbreaks all the time in nursing homes and other aged care facilities,” he said.
“It’s really important that the message about vaccination of all residents is taken up to stave those epidemics off in the residential care facilities.”
The real situation could be worse, as Dr Armstrong cautioned that the number of recorded influenza-related deaths was likely to be an underestimate.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/0EpDZ/4/?abcnewsembedheight=500
“Most of the people who die from influenza don’t make it onto our systems,” he said.
“They’re people who’ve got underlying medical conditions that are worsened by having influenza.”
Dr Armstrong said until the number of cases peaked, it was difficult to predict whether the flu season in WA would finish earlier than previous years.
Outbreak comes after ‘quiet’ 2018
UWA clinical professor David Smith, a director of the National Influenza Centre, said the spike in cases could partly be attributed to “a very quiet” flu season in 2018, when a total of 21 deaths were recorded in WA.
“There was very little influenza activity last year. And that possibly means that the population as a whole hasn’t been primed well to be ready for the influenza activity this year,” he said.
“We may be more susceptible than we normally are.”
He said the two dominant strains of influenza this season were also different to last year.
“One is an influenza A strain, H3N2 virus, and the other is an Influenza B strain, so we’re being hit with these two viruses together just at the moment,” he said.
Vaccination program expands
The outbreak has also prompted massive demand for flu vaccines, with 662,000 vaccines distributed in WA so far this year compared to 527,200 for the whole of 2018.
Health Minister Roger Cook said 10-year-old children would now be able to get a flu vaccination in pharmacies, rather than having to go to a GP.
“We will take the vaccination regime for pharmacies from 18-year-olds down to 10-year-olds, consistent with what is occurring in other states, to make sure we improve our vaccination rates,” he said.
Mr Cook also said Health Department workers would be vaccinated, after the idea was put forward by the Australian Medical Association.
“I think it’s important that not only that we protect our front line workers but obviously that Health sets an example, and is an exemplar of getting their flu vaccinations,” he said.Posted 18 JunJune 2019, updated 19 JunJune 2019