by Geoff Egan
PREVENTABLE flu cases have spiked in recent weeks, swamping Northern NSW hospitals.
NSW Health figures have revealed 940 people with confirmed influenza cases have attended Northern NSW hospitals. The rate of confirmed flu cases for every 100,000 people has increased throughout the year to 39.8 in late July from 1.63 cases for every 100,000 in January.
But doctors are warning those numbers will increase with the flu season yet to peak.
NSW Health data showed in the last week of July alone 526 people were admitted to hospitals across NSW with pneumonia and influenza-like illnesses.
North Coast Public Health director Paul Corben said there had been a high number of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases reported across the district, and influenza activity is expected to remain high for at least the next few weeks.
"If you haven't already had a flu vaccination, there's still time to get vaccinated and reduce your chances of becoming seriously ill this season,” he said.
"Flu vaccination is free for higher-risk groups, including pregnant women, people with certain chronic medical conditions - such as severe asthma, diabetes or heart disease - and Aboriginal people aged six months to five years, or over 15 years.
"Vaccination is the best protection against seasonal influenza. Those eligible for a free vaccine should make an appointment with their local doctor as soon as possible. Other people should see their GP or chemist.”
NSW Health communicable diseases director Vicky Sheppeard said across the state there had been an increase in emergency department admissions in recent weeks.
"During peak times we encourage people to seek advice from their GPs and HealthDirect.gov.au, a 24-hour helpline that provides immediate health advice online from registered nurses,” she said.
Dr Sheppeard said older residents were particularly at risk and should vaccinate.
"We are seeing high levels of both influenza A and B strains circulating in the community, which places vulnerable people at high risk of catching influenza and developing severe complications. There have also been 150 outbreaks reported in aged care facilities since the start of the year,” she said.
"It is also important to remember that it's not too late to vaccinate. Winter will be here for another month and we usually see influenza activity continue into September.”