By Gill Cooper
A sudden spike in flu cases acrossthe Geelong region over summer has put health authorities on watch for any rapid spread of the illness this month.
Infectious diseases data from Department of Health this week revealed 68 cases of influenza were reported in the Barwon South West region compared with 37 for the same period in 2018.
Reports doubled across Victoria, with 1271 people considered “notifiable” cases of the flu in the year to 2 February compared with 631 statewide in 2018.
Barwon Health infectious diseases specialist Associate Professor Deb Friedman said people travelling interstate or to the northern hemisphere could be introducing a new strain of flu, causing the spike in reported cases.
A large number of influenza cases flared throughout the eastern states of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland during January, she said.
“Locally there has been influenza outbreaks in nursing homes which can act as a reservoir for infection to spread to staff, visitors and then hospitals when these patients are admitted.
“We will know more by typing influenza strains from (sample taken in) January and closely watching any further increase in notifiable cases reported by doctors in February and March.“
Prof Friedman said data from 2018 indicated vaccination “reduced hospital admissions for influenza by 66 per cent – at the higher end of the vaccine’s effectiveness“.
“Therefore we do not have any reason to believe that vaccination in 2018 was in any way less effective at preventing flu,” she said.
“Immunisation is the most effective way to prevent flu and there is still time for people who remain unvaccinated to talk to a health professional.
“The early peak in cases now may just be an aberration which may not herald a bad flu season in 2019.”
She said health authorities would be closely watching the number of notifiable cases of influenza in Geelong over the next two months to spot any trend.
“People who contract the flu should stay home, avoid going to work or school and practice good hand hygiene.”
Prof Friedman also said minor increases in local Hepatitis C, Salmonellosis and Anaphylaxis cases in surveillance date for notifiable conditions were no cause for concern.
“There is always a month to month variation in these rates and they do not signify a trend at this stage. Especially anaphylaxis which is a non-contagious condition,” she said.
Prof Friedman said the temporary rise in population over summer and more seasonal exposure to insect bites and food allergies may account for the rise in reported anaphylaxis cases.