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The flu season may be starting early this year

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Doctors are being warned to prepare for an early flu season with a fivefold increase in cases reported for the first two months of this year.

More than 2500 Australians have already succumbed to the flu this year. The potentially deadly strain has killed several younger patients around the world.

Experts say that flu sufferers aged between 24 and 65 years face the greatest risk of death from this year’s flu virus, with 60 per cent of those who died from the flu in the US winter falling into that age group.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said the fivefold increase was extraordinary. He warned that we need to be super vigilant and to watch the pattern closely to determine whether we are heading towards a flu epidemic.

“Flu surges happen and go in a 20 week period,” Dr Hambleton said. “Usually our flu season starts in July, but we are already seeing an increase in flu cases for this time of year.”

Dr Hambleton said the flu vaccine this year protects against the H1N1 strain, which we have seen affect Australians over the past few years and strains that appeared in the most recent Northern Hemisphere winter.

Dr Hambleton said the best prevention against the flu is to get vaccinated. He said the benefits outweighed the risks, and reminded people that, if they do get the flu this season, to follow proper hygiene etiquette and stay away from work.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Baggoley has already written to doctors with important information about the 2014 Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Program.
Professor Baggoley has reminded doctors that bioCSL Fluvax must not be provided to children younger than five years of age. It is considered “off label use” when administered to children younger than five years, and doctors may be exposed to legal risk. Professor Baggoley said bioCSL Fluvax was also not recommended for use in children aged five to nine years because of the higher risk that these children will develop a fever if administered. He said there were alternative vaccines available for use in children.

Individuals aged 65 years or older, of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent from 15 years of age, pregnant women, and individuals aged six months and over with medical conditions predisposing them to severe influenza are eligible to receive a free vaccine.

More information about the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine is available at www.immunise.health.gov.au

KW

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