18 April 2019

What to expect from this year’s flu season

Immunology Respiratory

As many 4000 Australians are expected to die this year as a result of contracting  influenza, experts predict.

But while that figure may seem high compared with earlier years, the increase in fatalities can be attributed to improved data recording rather than the expected virulence of the virus.

To illustrate, Australia’s 2017 flu season was considered a severe one with health authorities reporting more than 1200 deaths, while the following year the rate was far lower. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt attributed the 2018 decline to a higher rate of vaccination.

But Professor Robert Booy, chair of the Immunisation Coalition, says the increase in flu fatalities in recent years is attributed to better data analysis, not just more flu cases.

He says improved data reveals thousands more deaths across 2017, which means the prediction for this coming season is not as bad as it first appears.

“Years ago, a couple of hundred [flu deaths] were recorded, and suddenly, it’s now a thousand.

“It’s not because the 2017 flu season was 10 times worse. It’s because we are getting better at recording the data and we are suddenly recording a bigger proportion of what really happened,” Professor Booy said.

According to the group’s data, there have been almost 29,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza already this year, twice as many as the same time last year.

The federal government recently announced six million free doses of the flu vaccine will be available for this year’s season.