Australians urged to get the flu shot ahead of early and dangerous flu season

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Experts are urging Australians to get their flu shots early after more than 250 Australians died from influenza last year.

Influenza is a contagious – and potentially fatal – viral illness, with symptoms ranging between a sore throat, fever, body aches, runny or stuffy noses and more.

Between January and August 2023 there were 273 deaths related to the flu recorded at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with 71 per cent of the deaths happening within the peak season of May and July.

Flu cases are already at double the weekly rate of last year’s flu season, which hit at least 300,000 Australians.

Bupa Health Services medical director Tony MacDermott warned that this year’s flu season was potentially dangerous, urging Australians to get ahead of the peak season and get their vaccines before the end of May.

“We expect this year’s flu season to be as dangerous as last year, especially in combination with new Covid-19 strains that have hit Australia already,” he said.

“The flu is more than a bad cold, it can be deadly, and we shouldn’t underestimate it – now is not the time for flu vaccine complacency.”

Dr MacDermott said with flu season hitting earlier over the last few years, it was expected to peak in June this year.

“The northern hemisphere flu season just gone has provided us with a glimpse of what we may see here soon – an earlier season than previous years with more cases and more hospitalisations.

“One of the easiest things you can do to protect yourself, your family and the community is to get a flu vaccine. This will also help take pressure off GPs and hospital emergency departments which are already under considerable pressure.”

Bupa has begun delivering more than 52,000 flu vaccinations to organisations across the country, with vaccines being delivered at workplaces, universities and pharmacies.

Bookings are also now open for free flu vaccinations in Queensland as 11 deaths and more than 7000 cases have already been reported.

Hospital admissions are also sitting at more than 700, with the government investing $40m towards free flu shots.

Queensland Premier Steven Miles said there had been a drop in vaccination rates due to “vaccine fatigue” following the pandemic and encouraged Queenslanders to roll up their sleeves and protect themselves.

“While it might seem like the common cold, influenza can be deadly which is why it’s so important to get a flu shot every single year,” he said.

“Our free flu vaccination program is an easy way to get yourself covered ahead of winter without the barrier of cost and has helped almost one million people get protected so far.”

Health, Minister Shannon Fentiman said nearly all people who presented to the hospital with the flu last year hadn’t been vaccinated.

“Making it free ahead of the peak flu season keeps people safe and ensures our health system is available for Queenslanders who need it most,” she said.

“Getting vaccinated every year is the best way for people to protect themselves and their loved ones against the flu.”

It marks the third consecutive year of the Queensland free flu vaccination program following the free meningococcal B vaccine for eligible children and adults as well as last week’s announcement of a free RSV immunisation program.

Infants under six months, adults aged over 65, people with chronic health conditions and the Indigenous community are the most vulnerable groups to the flu and are encouraged to get their flu shots early.

Other ways to protect against the flu include hand washing, staying home if you’re feeling unwell and covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

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