06 May 2015

NSW Health is urging anyone thinking of taking a holiday cruise to be vaccinated against influenza at least two weeks prior to departure, following several recent outbreaks on board ships arriving in Sydney.

NSW is experiencing markedly increased flu activity this year. Obtaining the annual flu vaccination is sound advice for all members of the community whether they are planning to travel by sea or air.

Particular care should be taken by cruise passengers who may be at increased risk due to the large numbers of people frequently mingling from all parts of the world, for longer periods of time and in close proximity to another.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director, Communicable Diseases Branch, NSW Health, said since 1 February 2015, about 533 passengers and crew arriving in Sydney on board cruise ships have been recorded as having an influenza-like illness.

“Cruise ships have strong protocols in place for assessing, treating and isolating passengers and crew with suspected influenza, but the best form of prevention is vaccination,” Dr Sheppeard said.

 “We strongly recommend that people who are planning to take a cruise make it a priority to visit their doctor and have the influenza vaccination at least two weeks before departure,” she said.

“This is especially important for pregnant women, the elderly and anyone who is at increased risk of pneumonia or other serious complications if they contract influenza,” she said.

On average, flu notifications over the first four months of this year have been more than double that of previous years.

“If you are showing symptoms of having influenza, it is very important that you take steps to avoid spreading it. This includes covering your face when you cough or sneeze and throwing used tissues in a rubbish bin. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, and for at least 10 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand rub.”

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. There are three main types of influenza virus that cause infection in humans - types A, B and C - and many sub-types or strains. Influenza can occur throughout the year but influenza activity usually peaks in winter.

The 2015 seasonal influenza vaccines for Australia have been updated to match the new strains of influenza A/H3N2 and influenza B that have been circulating during the Northern Hemisphere winter and which circulated in NSW during the 2014 season.

NSW Health is currently working with the cruise ship industry to promote the recommendation for influenza vaccination prior to travel among booked passengers.

For more information on the NSW Cruise Ship Health Surveillance Program, visit South Eastern Sydney Local Health District - Statewide Services

For more information on influenza outbreaks in travel groups, visit Influenza fact sheet.