18 March 2019

NSW Health is reminding people with symptoms of flu to stay away from aged care facilities after a series of influenza outbreaks.

There were 2244 influenza cases confirmed in NSW in the four weeks to 3 March - almost double the 1144 notifications in February last year, NSW Health’s latest Influenza Surveillance Report shows.

Eight outbreaks at aged care facilities were reported in February.

NSW Health’s Communicable Diseases Branch Director, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said several factors were contributing to the high level of unseasonal flu cases.

“Some of the increase follows a late influenza season across tropical parts of Australia, which affected northern NSW, and now it’s likely that travellers returning from the northern hemisphere are bringing flu home with them,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“Unusually high levels of influenza activity are being seen in most states and territories, with the national reporting rate more than three times the average for this time of year.”

Influenza activity last winter was the lowest recorded since 2013.

Dr Sheppeard said while it’s unlikely the high number of cases will lead to widespread infection in the community, it is concerning to see outbreaks at aged care facilities.

“Residents of aged care facilities will have little immunity left from last year’s flu vaccine, so it’s important to not expose them to the risk of influenza,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“If you have a fever, cough or runny nose please postpone visiting elderly relatives until you recover.

“If you have symptoms of flu it’s important to prevent the spread by coughing and sneezing into your elbow, washing your hands regularly, and staying home if you’re unwell.”

Publicly funded vaccines for high risk people for the 2019 season will be available across Australia from mid April.

The reports can be viewed at Influenza Surveillance Reports.