More immunisations in preparation for flu season could save lives as the virus continues to mutate making it more difficult to treat, according to Australia’s peak medical body.
It has been reported as the worst Australian flu season in about 15 years and has claimed the lives of at least 74 people.
Figures show that the number of flu cases in Victoria alone is up 90 per cent compared with last year’s flu season.
This year optimal time for immunisations were pushed back to between April and June to better protect against peak season in August and September.
Meanwhile, the number of laboratory-confirmed flu virus infections began rising earlier than usual.
A young Victorian father who died on Father’s Day only days after complaining about a “bug” is the most recent victim.
A 14-year-old Queenslander remains in hospital fighting for life after she contracted a severe case of the flu.
Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Tony Bartone told The New Daily that the body was calling on more Australians to get immunised in the lead up to flu season.
“The vaccine is the only proven way to reasonably confidently prevent yourself from getting the flu,” Dr Bartone said.
“It’s free and when you seriously think about the morbidity and the mortality, it shouldn’t be a difficult decision.”
He added that the speed by which influenza viruses mutate can make it difficult to keep up by developing protective vaccines.
Dr Bartone said the very early flu symptoms are quite similar to that of the common cold.
However, the flu could be distinguished as the symptoms progress far more rapidly and can become severe within a day.
“It might start out similar to a cold, but someone with the flu will quickly start experiencing more severe symptoms,” Dr Bartone said.
“This includes severe muscle aches and pains, fevers and chills, coughs and sniffles, feeling weak or tired and wanting to stay in bed, and maybe even nausea.
“This all happens in the first day or two of contracting the flu.”
He said the elderly, pregnant women and people with young children were the most susceptible to developing complications that could pose risk of death.
While it is not common for an otherwise healthy person to die from the flu, it is “not unheard of”, Dr Bartone said.
“Antiviral medication Tamiflu is available from pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription but this needs to be started very early.
“We advise that those who haven’t been immunised, should. It’s not too late.”