A big jump in the number of people suffering from influenza across the northern rivers in the past few weeks has prompted a warning for people at risk to be vaccinated against it.
Health authorities say this is more important given that two new strains of the flu have appeared this season, which could put many people at risk, including pregnant mums and the elderly.
Director of the North Coast Public Health Unit, Paul Corben, said that so far this year, 118 cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza in residents of the northern rivers had been reported, 46 of those just in the past four weeks.
Mr Corben said vaccination was the best way to prevent influenza ‘and it is never too late to vaccinate’.
‘Influenza vaccination provides protection for about a year. People who had the seasonal influenza vaccine anytime in 2014 still need to be vaccinated in 2015 to maintain immunity against influenza,’ he said.
‘Given the 2015 influenza seasonal vaccine contains two new strains, it is especially important that those at risk be vaccinated.’
Free flu vaccine is available to people considered more vulnerable to severe influenza, including those aged 65 years and older, pregnant women, people with chronic illness as well as Aboriginal people.
Parents of children older than six months of age, who are at higher risk of severe influenza, are urged to talk to their GP to arrange a vaccination.
‘Influenza vaccination during pregnancy should be considered routine as it protects both the mother and the infant,’ Mr Corben said.
‘Taking preventive measures with personal hygiene, such as covering your mouth when coughing and washing your hands regularly, will also help reduce the risk of contracting the flu virus.’
Tips on avoiding, or spreading, the flu:
- Cover your face with a tissue when you cough or sneeze;
- Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly;
- Stay home if you have the flu to avoid infecting others; and
- If you think you may have influenza and you need to see a doctor call first so the clinic can take precautions to reduce the risk to other people.
NSW Health reminds parents and families that health advice and information is available via the free Health Direct Australia service, staffed by registered nurses 24-hours a day on 1800 022 222.