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2016 Influenza Season Report

Wednesday 25 Jan 2017
2016 Influenza Season Report

The severity for each flu season is classified by the proportion of the population admitted to the ICU and the number of pneumonia or influenza related deaths recorded nationwide. The 2016 Australian influenza season was classified as low to moderate1 in light of the number of severe complications and deaths relating from the illness. This classification, however, does not attribute to the number of influenza illness affecting Australians who did not get admitted to hospital.

The Australian influenza season is categorised from May – October 2016 with the highest incidence of influenza illness between the periods 22 July – 03 September 20162. It is between these months influenza was seen to increase on a national level. Furthermore, influenza-like-illness continued to increase during this period with more than half of all patients presenting to general practitioners testing positive for influenza3.

Sonic HealthPlus doctor, Nicola Brooker, has identified the most common misconceptions about the influenza virus:

  1. The influenza virus affects all individuals whether currently healthy or ill – not just the old or the young.
  2. The influenza vaccine does not make you sick with influenza. This is impossible as the influenza vaccine is not a 'live vaccine'.
  3. The composition of the influenza vaccine changes each year to protect against the most common circulating strains. Therefore, an influenza vaccine is recommended each year.
  4. The flu is the MOST common vaccine preventable health risk for travellers.
  5. Influenza and the common cold are different and the influenza vaccine will not prevent contraction of a cold.

Influenza affects both the individual and businesses in the following ways:

  1. Influenza generally requires a minimum of two weeks sick leave and can lead to hospital admissions and death.
  2. Those workers who live in close proximity (for example, FIFO workers) increase the spread of influenza virus amongst other workers.
  3. If influenza is circulating within a workplace, all workers within close proximity are then exposing their family and friends to the illness.
  4. Influenza costs the Australian economy an estimated $35 billion each year 8, while the cost to individual companies is as much as $13,000 for each week an employee is bedridden9.

The 2016 influenza season saw the dominant circulating influenza strain as influenza A (H3N2)4 with lower levels of influenza B presenting during the above period. Categorically, the 2016 predominant influenza virus strain (influenza A H3N2) typically affects adults aged over 85 and those aged less than five years more severally than other groups5. It is for this reason the Australian Government Department of Health National Immunisation Program offers free vaccines for at-risk groups. These at-risk groups include:

  1. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged six months – five years
  2. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander persons aged mover 15 years
  3. All adults aged over 65 years
  4. All persons aged over six months with a medical condition which increases the risk of influenza complications
  5. Pregnant woman (at any stage of pregnancy)

Those individuals with a medical condition associated with an increased risk of influenza disease complications include:

  1. Cardiac disease
  2. Chronic respiratory conditions
  3. Chronic neurological conditions
  4. Immunocompromising conditions
  5. Diabetes and other metabolic diseases
  6. Renal disease
  7. Haematological disorders
  8. Long term aspiring therapy in children

The debate over trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines has declined with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommending the quadrivalent vaccine over the trivalent vaccine6. This recommendation comes as the quadrivalent vaccine is seen to provide broader protection over four circulating strains, as opposed to the trivalent three. The addition of the second strain of influenza B is important as Australia discovered in the 2015 season. The delay in the World Health Organisations decision to add in the influenza B vaccine was too late in the last season which resulted in an influenza B epidemic in 20157.

Sonic HealthPlus' national influenza program will be providing in clinic and on-site quadrivalent vaccinations for the 2017 flu season. These vaccinations, administered by trained nurses, will assist in reducing influenza virus amongst your workforce.

Learn more about our flu program

REFERENCES:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Australian Government Department of Health Influenza Surveillance Report 6 – Australian Government Department of Health Immunise Australia Program

7 – ABC news Queensland on brink of influenza epidemic

8 – Flu season could cost NSW $482 million (2012)

9 – Medibank private survey, July 2011 – sick at work the, the cost of presenteeism to your business and the economy