Australia in grips of worst flu season in at least 15 years

Adrian Taylor says he spent the weekend "in hell" after being struck down by the flu four days ago. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Adrian Taylor says he spent the weekend "in hell" after being struck down by the flu four days ago. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Australia is in the midst of what is likely to be the worst flu season in at least 15 years, with more than 70,000 people struck down by the dreaded lurgy so far this year.

So far, there have been more than 71,256 lab-confirmed cases of the flu across the country this year. Children and teenagers, aged 10 to 19, have been among the hardest hit.

However, that number only represents cases that have been confirmed by a laboratory after an ill person visits their doctor and a nasal swab is taken for testing; the real number is likely to be much higher.

There have been more than twice as many confirmed cases in the first seven months of 2017 than the same time period last year.

Should current trends continue, doctors believe this year will the worst in the past 15 years.

In greater Bendigo, three times as many cases of influenza have been reported to the Victorian health department so far this year, compared to the same time in 2016.

Strathfieldsaye Primary Health GP and Murray PHN medical advisor Dr Ewa Piejko said the spike in flu cases had come early this season, but it wasn’t unusual to see an increase.

“We’re probably seeing the usual seasonal increase,” she said of local cases. “However the Department of Health has said the reporting has increased across Australia.”

Dr Piejko said the increase in influenza cases in the region could also be put down to an increase in doctors testing patients, rather than a spike in the number of people contracting the flu.

Several schools in the region the Bendigo Advertiser spoke to this week said they had seen nothing out of the ordinary in terms of students off sick, with just the usual numbers at this time of the year.

Experts say there are four different strains of the virus circulating this year: Influenza A-H1N1, A-H3N2, B-Victoria and B-Yamagata. The B strains are relatively stable, but the A strains tend to mutate.

Dr Piejko said it was very rare for drugs to be prescribed to treat viral infections but pain-relieving medication could help treat symptoms.

She encouraged people to stay well-hydrated and said it was not too late to get the flu shot. 

More information on dealing with influenza is available at the Better Health Channel: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/flu-influenza