Increased flu cases in Victoria
Australia has had a severe start to the 2019 flu season.
The season started earlier than normal and the number of cases for this point in the year is higher than expected. The number of cases of influenza diagnosed each week is currently greater than the record severe flu season we saw in 2017, when more than 220,000 Australians were diagnosed with influenza.
It is difficult to predict whether this trend will continue in the coming months, however measures are pointing to a larger than normal flu season this year.
More information is available in the Department of Health’s latest influenza surveillance report.
Flu can cause death in children
The flu is particularly serious in children. Three children are among the 26 people who have died from influenza in Victoria so far this year.
Dr Margie Danchin, a general paediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital and a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said that children should be getting vaccinated against the flu every year.
“Flu is serious in kids, they can die from an influenza infection. Children aged from six months to less than five years are able to access free flu vaccine in Victoria. All children who are under nine when they get the vaccine for the first time need two doses at least one month apart.
“The vaccine works – it is about 50 to 60 per cent effective and it is safe. It should be a priority for children to get vaccinated, even previously healthy kids. Parents also need to prioritise getting the flu shot – don’t delay due to minor illness if you don’t have a fever – and pregnant women need the vaccine every pregnancy.”
Free flu vaccines are available under the National Immunisation Program for people at greatest risk. As well as children under five years, this group also includes:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 15 years and over
- People aged 65 years and over
- Individuals with certain medical conditions predisposing to severe influenza
- Pregnant women
Managing influenza in general practice
Influenza can be managed effectively in general practice. The Department of Health has produced handy fact sheets on the guidelines for influenza vaccination and explaining which of the 2019 influenza vaccines can be given to specific patient groups. The guides are:
- 2019 seasonal influenza vaccines – clinical advice for vaccination providers
- 2019 national immunisation program – influenza vaccines
You should continue to proactively vaccinate your patients against the flu. You could consider an active recall for high-risk patients, such as children and patients over 65. NWMPHN provided two webinars on practical strategies for effective reminder and recall systems in MedicalDirector and Best Practice clinical software. If you would like to watch these webinars please email: email@example.com.
Make sure you report all vaccinations, including influenza vaccinations, to the Australian Immunisation Register.
The RACGP Standards for general practices (5th edition) advises that practices act to reduce the risk of cross-contamination in the practice. This includes implementing triage and infection control systems to avoid spread of the flu. All practice staff should be appropriately immunised.
If the flu situation does escalate, practices should review their pandemic response plan. The RACGP Managing pandemic influenza in general practice guide and toolkit is useful for practices to ensure they have an up-to-date pandemic response plan.
Where can I find further information for general practice?
HealthPathways Melbourne is a Primary Health Network initiative providing information, clinical advice and referral services mapping.
Relevant HealthPathways Melbourne pages include:
For access to HealthPathways please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
By North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network, Primary Health Care Improvement Team.
Disclaimer: This article was provided by NWMPHN. While every effort has been made to ensure the information is accurate, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network does not warrant or represent the accuracy, currency and completeness of any information or material included within.