Department of Health

Severe flu season hits near-record levels

24/08/17
Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Victoria is currently hitting the peak of one of the worst flu seasons, with hospitals and ambulances under increasing pressure from sick patients.

Visiting the Royal Children's Hospital today, Victoria's Chief Health Officer Professor Charles Guest called on all Victorians to take steps to protect their health and stop the spread of flu.

"Busy emergency departments like the Royal Children's are facing increasing demand as we hit the peak of the winter flu season," Professor Guest said.

"In an emergency, you should always call 000. However, for less urgent cases people are encouraged to visit their local GP, talk to a pharmacist or call Nurse-On-Call on 1300 60 60 24.

"Nurse-On-Call is available 24 hours a day and Victoria now also has 12 Supercare Pharmacies that are open round-the-clock."

The flu season started earlier this year. So far in 2017, there have been more than 10,000 confirmed cases of influenza, with many more notifications still expected.

Meanwhile, flu outbreaks, particularly in aged care facilities, are at very high levels. There have been 177 respiratory outbreaks notified this year compared to 77 for the same period last year.

High risk groups include the elderly, infants, those with chronic conditions such as heart or lung disease, renal failure, diabetes and chronic neurological conditions, the immuno-compromised, pregnant women, smokers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Professor Guest said the flu is a highly contagious viral infection, spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes.

"The most common symptoms of the flu are sudden high fever, a dry cough, body aches, and feeling very tired and weak," Professor Guest said.

"Infections in children may also be associated with gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Croup is a common presentation in children.

"Most symptoms resolve within seven days, although the cough may persist for longer. Complications of influenza include middle ear infections, secondary bacterial pneumonia and worsening of underlying chronic health conditions.

"Most otherwise healthy adults will be able to infect other people up to seven days after becoming sick.

"Therefore, anyone sick with the flu should avoid visiting loved ones in aged care or in hospital, as it can spread quickly and be very serious for people most at risk such as the elderly."

Professor Guest said better hand washing is one of the most important ways to reduce the spread of infectious diseases such as the flu.

"It is also important to practice good cough etiquette at all times. This includes covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and disposing of tissues immediately," Professor Guest said.

"Vaccination is also vital in stopping the spread of influenza. With about two months of the flu season to go, it is still not too late to get your flu shot."

The Influenza vaccine is available from GPs and also from pharmacists who are qualified and trained to give immunisations.

Primary school students are also helping to stop the spread of germs through the Department of Health and Human Services' new 'Soapy Hero' hand hygiene program.

For more information visit the Better Health Channel.

Reviewed 24 August 2017

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