Person getting a flu shot. Picture: iStock
Person getting a flu shot. Picture: iStock

Hopes COVID-19 caution could curb flu numbers

WHILE still in the early days of the region’s flu season, Wide Bay Public Health Physician Dr Niall Conroy is hoping the social distancing restrictions in place as a result of COVID-19 will have a positive impact on flu numbers.

On April 24, the Wide Bay recorded no new lab-confirmed cases of influenza for the past fortnight, and had recorded 131 cases so far in 2020.

Dr Conroy said this compares to 221 for the same period in last year, and to a five-year average of 127 for the same period.

He said it was important to remember it was early in the season, which traditionally peaks around July or August.

“It’s hoped that the physical distancing requirements currently in place due to the novel coronavirus will have a positive impact on flu numbers, but it’s difficult to predict the outcome of a flu season while in the early stages.

“We’re not out of the woods with COVID-19 by any means, and it still has the potential to seriously stretch our health services,” he said.

“So by continuing physical distancing and getting the flu vaccine, community members would be giving the rest of the population a helping hand by avoiding flu.”

As of yesterday the Wide Bay had four active coronavirus cases and 20 recovered cases.

According to Queensland Health, six people have died across the state and as of yesterday total of 926 Queenslanders (almost 90 per cent of total cases) have now recovered from COVID-19.

Despite the fact that Queensland has recorded very low numbers of cases this week, Queensland Health’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said residents are reminded to continue staying home as much as possible, and to travel as short a distance as possible when undertaking essential activities.

Dr Conroy said while the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, it can reduce the severity and spread of influenza, which may make a person more susceptible to other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.

Queensland Health recommend an annual influenza vaccination for all people aged 6 months and older, with free vaccines will be available to eligible Queenslanders from mid-April.

Influenza vaccines are funded under the National Immunisation Program for all children from 6 months to less than 5 years of age, all adults 65-years-old and over, pregnant women, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over and individuals aged 6 months and older with medical conditions which increase the risk of influenza disease complications.

All other individuals can purchase the vaccine from their doctor.

Last year the NewsMail reported that up until September 1, there have been 1748 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza within the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service area – 4.1 times the five-year average for the year-to-date.

Dr Conroy’s advice to the community is:

1) Keep following state and national advice around physical distancing

2) Stay home if you’re unwell

3) Get the flu vaccination as soon as possible if you’re in an at-risk group

4) Get your flu vaccine when available from your local GP or pharmacist, if you’re not in a vulnerable group

5) Keep checking the Queensland Health website for up-to-date advice.