An unprecedented jump in the number of people dying from the flu in Queensland has prompted the Chief Medical Officer Jeanette Young to again urge people to get their flu shot as soon as possible.
“Flu is a serious viral illness,” said Dr Young after The Courier Mail revealed that at least 25 Queenslanders have died of the flu so far this year – more than half the number for the whole of 2018 – with the peak of the season yet to hit.
Dr Young said the figures showed how serious complications can be adding that vaccination was the best way to prevent getting it.
Queensland Health does not usually release data related to flu deaths but took the step of providing the numbers after a special request by The Courier Mail.
So far this year, 10,328 cases of laboratory confirmed flu have been registered in Queensland and more than 800 people have been admitted to the state’s public hospitals with the virus since the start of the year including 73 who required intensive care.
The flu is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause severe illness and is spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes.
It is estimated that flu contributes to more than 4,000 deaths in Australia each year. Most are the elderly.
The “swine flu” virus – also known as influenza A (H1N1) – emerged in 2009 and caused the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years. However, it is now a regular human flu virus that continues to circulate seasonally worldwide. The current seasonal influenza vaccine has been designed to include protection against the swine flu virus.
The most common symptoms of the flu are:
- Sudden appearance of a high fever (38 °C or more)
- A dry cough
- Body aches (especially in the head, lower back and legs)
- Feeling extremely weak and tired (and not wanting to get out of bed).
Other symptoms can be chills, aching behind the eyes, loss of appetite, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose.
Having the flu is even more likely if you have been in contact with someone who already has it, or have had some other type of exposure such as overseas travel to areas where flu outbreaks are occurring.
Whether you have the flu or another kind of virus can only be confirmed by a doctor after a nose or throat swab has returned positive results. The treatment is similar for any ‘flu-like’ illness, but a diagnosis is useful in helping health officials track disease patterns and frequency and will be required where complications have developed.
What to expect
Symptoms of the flu hit very quickly and may last for several weeks. A bout of the flu typically follows this pattern:
Days 1–3: Sudden appearance of fever, headache, muscle pain and weakness, dry cough, sore throat and sometimes a stuffy nose.
Day 4: Fever and muscle aches decrease. Hoarse, dry or sore throat, cough and possible mild chest discomfort become more noticeable. You may feel tired or flat.
Day 8: Symptoms decrease. Cough and tiredness may last one to two weeks or more.
In some cases of the flu, severe illness and complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis can develop, which can result in hospitalisation and even death. The flu can also make some existing medical conditions worse.
Those at high risk of severe complications
Some people are at higher risk of severe complications associated with the flu. They include:
- Pregnant women
- People aged over 65
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- All children younger than five years of age
- People with chronic medical conditions.
How to avoid the flu?
Annual immunisation against the flu is recommended for all people from six months of age. Many people in the above groups are eligible for free flu vaccination each year (in autumn) under the National Immunisation Program and the Victorian government funded vaccine program for children aged six months to less than five years.
The vaccine is not 100 per cent effective but it does provide a high level of protection and can reduce symptoms in those still getting sick.
Anyone in these at-risk groups with flu-like symptoms should see their doctor as soon as possible.
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