Horror flu year sees record cases, 57 deaths in district

Harsh year: 2017 was the worst year on record for flu cases in the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD). Picture: AP Photo
Harsh year: 2017 was the worst year on record for flu cases in the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD). Picture: AP Photo

The number of people who fell victim to the flu sky rocketed within the health district during 2017 – resulting in more than 50 deaths and 11,000 reported cases.

Last year was the worst on record when it came to the number of people testing positive for the flu within the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD).

There were 11,237 reported cases which was almost triple the number of reported cases in 2016 (4328 cases).

The figures only include people who were tested, meaning the actual number of people infected could have been much higher.

SESLHD public health unit director Mark Ferson said the hike in reported cases resulted from outbreaks of influenza A and influenza B.

“These numbers were based on laboratory notifications for people who tested positive for influenza, including tests performed by GPs,” Professor Ferson said.

“The estimated number of residents who died from influenza last year was 57, but this figure does not include those people who died from pneumonia, for which no influenza testing was performed.”

While it was certainly a horror year for the flu, new testing rolled out last year meant the figures were slightly skewed when compared to other years. The new testing saw more accurate diagnosis of the disease and more positive tests than in previous years.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard visited a childcare centre today, Little Kids Academy (Barden Ridge), to announce a new initiative in NSW to help prevent another awful flu season in 2018.

Flu jabs: Premier Gladys Berejiklian at Little Kids Academy (Barden Ridge). Picture: AAP Image

Flu jabs: Premier Gladys Berejiklian at Little Kids Academy (Barden Ridge). Picture: AAP Image

Children between six months and five years old will be eligible for free flu jabs this year as part of the announcement.

The program will cost $3.5 million and will target more than 400,000 children.

The free flu jabs were already available to people who are pregnant, over 65 years of age, who have certain health conditions, and for many Aboriginal people.

The record-breaking flu year in 2017 also had a big impact on emergency departments across the district and state.

St George Hospital ED even recorded its busiest day on record on August 13, 2017 when 320 patients visited the ED.

“Despite the intensity of the flu season and the significant increases in demand, the system managed very well, thanks to the hard work of hospital staff,” Professor Ferson said.

“There was a 38 per cent increase in the number of presentations to SESLHD’s emergency departments with respiratory-related illness during the 2017 winter period compared to 2016.”

Mortdale Medical Practice general practitioner Sam Monaha said he treated a lot more people infected by the flu last year than in previous years.

“Last year it was just crazy actually,” Dr Monaha said. “We were inundated by patients with the flu virus.”

He said he gave a lot of patients an antiviral medication called Tamiflu, and recommended people get vaccinated this year before winter.

How do people die from influenza?

For most people the flu results in symptoms such as a fever, chills, muscle aches, coughing, a runny nose, headaches or fatigue and symptoms can last a few days or a week.

But for some it is fatal.

The majority of flu deaths each year come among the elderly, with pre-existing conditions, although the young and healthy are not exempt.

Westmead Hospital medical virologist and infectious diseases physician Dominic Dwyer, who is also a clinical professor at the University of Sydney, told Fairfax Media last year that influenza deaths were complex.

He said they can be linked to cytokine storm syndrome, secondary infections such as pneumonia, and pre-existing conditions which are worsened by the flu.

Best ways to prevent getting the flu

Get vaccinated every year, vaccination is best before winter starts.

Wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, and encourage others to do so as well.

Ask sick people to stay away from work and gatherings until they are well.

If you are vulnerable to severe influenza see your doctor as soon as flu symptoms start, as early treatment of flu can help prevent complications.

  • Reported cases of influenza in the SESLHD (which includes St George and the Sutherland Shire):
  • 2017: 11,237 cases
  • 2016: 4328 cases
  • 2015: 4241 cases
  • 2014: 3162 cases
  • 2013: 1371 cases
  • 2012: 1146 cases
  • 2011: 601 cases
  • 2010: 201 cases
  • 2009: 1039 cases
  • 2008: 156 cases

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