26 April 2016

​With winter approaching, NSW Health is urging pregnant women and other high-risk groups to have their free flu vaccination as soon as possible.

Other people medically at risk who qualify for a free flu jab under the Immunise Australia Program include those with asthma, diabetes and those who are pregnant, as well as Aboriginal people aged six months to five years and over 15 years of age.
Only about a quarter (24.2%) of pregnant women in NSW were vaccinated against the flu last year. Further, only about one-third of obese people (32.1%) and those with diabetes (35.4%) and asthma (39.6%) were vaccinated.

Pregnant women with influenza have an increased risk of complications, including hospitalisation, intensive care admission, pre-term delivery and, in severe cases, the death of the mother and/or unborn baby. In 2015, out of 50 adults aged between 21 and 45 years admitted to a critical care unit with influenza at Westmead or John Hunter Hospital, 17 were pregnant.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty, Director, Health Protection NSW, said flu vaccination is very safe for expectant mothers and their babies and also provides protection in the infant’s early months.

“Flu vaccination is provided free of charge to pregnant women in NSW and we urge all expectant mothers to take up this opportunity to protect themselves and their babies,” said Dr McAnulty.

“During the 2009 Australian influenza pandemic, pregnant women were hospitalised at five times the rate of non-pregnant women,” he said.

“Children born to vaccinated mothers have a reduced risk of contracting influenza in the first six months of life.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) recommends that pregnant women be vaccinated early in the flu season as optimal protection takes effect 4-6 weeks after vaccination.

Influenza, commonly known as ‘the flu’, is a highly contagious illness. The virus is transmitted easily from person-to-person via droplets and small particles produced when infected people cough or sneeze, and through hand contact with contaminated surfaces. Influenza is characterised by a sudden high fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, feeling unwell, and sore throat.

Public health experts estimate that each year up to one in five people in NSW will get seasonal influenza, which equates to around 10 to 20 per cent of the population or 700,000 to 1.4 million people. It is expected that up to 800 individuals will die.