Australia has witnessed the lowest rates of influenza in five years after almost 11 million Australians received the flu vaccination this past winter, up one third from the previous year.
As of early December, 52,000 cases of influenza have been reported, and the death rate sits at 73. The influenza case rate and the number of deaths for the same period in 2017 were 250,000 and 1,137, respectively. This year has similarly seen an additional 3.4 million doses of the flu vaccine made available, a figure that confirmed vaccine accessibility for almost all individuals aged 65 years and older.
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"In response to the 2017 season which had the highest flu activity in Australia in almost a decade, the Liberal National Government made new enhanced vaccines available for the elderly to provide better protection against influenza for the 2018 season," Health Minister Greg Hunt announced in a media release. "There was also unprecedented demand for the influenza vaccine early in the 2018 season, which led the Government to secure an additional 1.3 million doses of the vaccine for the National Immunisation Program, state programs and the private market."
Data from the Immunisation Coalition shows a spike in flu cases in 2017.
A New England Journal of Medicine and Monash University research paper concluded that 2017 was Australia and New Zealand’s deadliest flu season since recording began in 1993. Report co-author and Alfred Hospital professor David Pilcher told The Sydney Morning Herald that, independently, flu-related sepsis and pneumonia took the lives of over 800 people throughout the two nations in a matter of months.
"In our intensive care unit, there were 30 ventilated patients, 17 patients that needed dialysis and eight patients on artificial hearts, which is a huge amount of really sick people," he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "It was one of the worst weeks of my professional life."
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The virus infects the throat, nose and occasionally the lungs. For some, the flu means a runny nose and cough, while for babies and those over the age of 65, the illness can lead to severe complications like acute bronchitis. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
"This is a timely reminder to everyone - vaccinations work," Hunt announced. "I am absolutely committed to strengthening Australia’s world-class National Immunisation Program and urge all Australians to get vaccinated."