Early influenza season in Central Australia

The 2019 flu season has arrived early in Central Australia, with increasing numbers of cases being reported over the past three weeks.

“There have been over 90 laboratory-confirmed cases in Central Australia this month (April 2019) signalling the beginning of the season which doesn’t usually start until July or August,” said the Coordinator at Alice Springs Centre for Disease Control, Dr Belinda Greenwood-Smith.

“The good news is that this season’s influenza vaccine is now available and everyone is recommended to get vaccinated.”

Seasonal influenza is a serious disease causing sudden onset of fever, cough, headache, severe muscle and joint pain, sore throat and extreme tiredness and may last for several weeks. Influenza can cause severe illness or death, especially in people at high risk such as pregnant women, Indigenous people, the elderly, individuals with specific chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and chronic heart, renal or lung diseases.

Influenza is spread by coughing, sneezing and contact with infected hands or surfaces contaminated with influenza virus. It is important to prevent spread of infection by coughing or sneezing into your elbow and washing your hands thoroughly. If you’re sick, stay away from work and other places where you’ll spread the flu.

“The most effective way to prevent the disease is by vaccination,” said Dr Greenwood-Smith. “The flu vaccine normally takes up to two weeks to provide full protection.”

Starting in 2019 the NT Government will provide FREE influenza vaccinations to all children under five years as they are at an increased risk of flu-related complications including middle ear infection, pneumonia and seizures. In 2018, 62 Territorian children under five years of age were hospitalised with influenza, so it can be a serious disease.

A free 2019 influenza vaccine is available for:

  • All children aged 6 months to less than 5 years
  • Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
  • Indigenous people aged 6 months and over
  • All people aged 65 years and over
  • Individuals aged 6 months and over with chronic medical conditions.

Vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk of serious influenza complications and for people who live with or care for high-risk individuals including health care workers and those working in aged care facilities.

There are different influenza vaccines for different age groups so please check with your GP, Aboriginal Medical Clinic, Community Care Clinic or pharmacy to ensure you receive the vaccine that is best for your age.

“Everyone who wants to protect themselves from influenza should be vaccinated,” Dr Greenwood-Smith said. If more people are vaccinated, less disease will circulate and the number of hospitalisations and death from influenza infection will decrease.

“People who are not eligible for the funded vaccine should also see their General Practitioner or pharmacy to purchase the vaccine now.”​

Source: NT Government