16 August 2016

NSW Health is urging people with flu symptoms to stay away from aged care facilities and vulnerable groups following a spike in influenza presentations to emergency departments and 22 new influenza outbreaks in residential aged care facilities in the last week.

NSW Health’s latest Influenza Report shows that more than 1950 confirmed influenza cases were reported from across the state last week.

Most cases are caused by the influenza A(H3N2) strain of the virus, which is covered by the 2016 seasonal influenza vaccine. Small children and older people tend to be more susceptible to severe influenza infection when influenza A(H3N2) is the predominant strain.

NSW Health’s Director Communicable Diseases, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said when flu was introduced to aged care facilities it was difficult to control as flu vaccination was not as effective in the elderly.

“Nevertheless, as older people are particularly susceptible to contracting the flu it’s important they have the vaccination every year to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“So far this year we’ve had 79 outbreaks in residential aged care facilities, affecting around 942 staff and residents, with 45 associated deaths reported in elderly residents with significant underlying illness. It’s important that friends and family who may have the flu stay away from these facilities while they are unwell to help prevent the spread of the virus.”

Dr Sheppeard said all pregnant women were also strongly advised to have the influenza vaccination to reduce the health risks to themselves and their babies.

“Pregnant women who get influenza are at greater risk of developing serious complications, such as pneumonia, which may result in their hospitalisation,” Dr Sheppeard said.

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

Dr Sheppeard said while influenza presentations at emergency departments continue to increase each week, the NSW Health system was well prepared to manage the cases.

“The NSW Ministry of Health, Local Health Districts and NSW Ambulance work together to manage surges in demand and improve the transfer of care times for patients during peak periods at hospital emergency departments,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“During peak times we encourage people to seek advice from their GPs and healthdirect, a 24 hour helpline that provides immediate health advice on line from registered nurses.”

Symptoms that indicate you have flu include: fever and chills; cough, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose; muscle aches and joint pains; headaches and fatigue; nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The following precautions can be taken to minimise the risk of developing influenza:

  • get vaccinated every year – preferably before winter starts
  • wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, and encourage others to do so as well
  • ask sick people to stay away until they are well
  • if you are vulnerable to severe influenza see your doctor as soon as flu symptoms start as early treatment of flu can help prevent complications.

For more information see Influenza.