NSW shadow health minister Walt Secord has criticised the Baird government for failing to issue an official flu season warning for the north coast.
This was after Lismore Base Hospital was singled out in a government report last week for an increase in pneumonia and influenza cases.
Mr Secord was referring to NSW Health’s Influenza Surveillance Report – Week 21 for the period – May 23-29, 2016.
Mr Secord said the State Government had a responsibility to warn and alert the community on important public health matters like influenza and pneumonia outbreaks. ‘Flu and pneumonia can be deadly to the elderly and the immune compromised.’
Statewide for the week ending May 29, there were 132 notifications for influenza – up from 106 in the previous week.
Lismore accounted for five of those, or 1.66 per head of population. But in fact it was way behind the ‘leader’ for admissions, North Sydney, which admitted 35 people over the same period, or 3.86 per head of population.
North Coast Public Health Unit director Paul Corben said the numbers were not unusual for the beginning of the flu season and rates are ‘about the same’ as last year.
‘I think it’s a bit early to say that we’re having a bad flu season. The numbers that we’re seeing at the moment are not beyond what we would expect to see at the beginning of the flu season,’ he told ABC.
‘But it is good to remind people that the flu season is approaching.’
Mr Secord urged the community to get vaccinated as the warmest NSW autumn on record had given the community an unwarranted sense of security in regard to the upcoming flu season.
‘Once the flu season starts, flu travels and spreads easily. Health experts predict that they will see more cases next month and the flu season will be full swing by the end of July,’ he said.
‘Flu vaccinations need to be updated each year, which means if you received the vaccine in 2015 it is time to renew your protection,’ he added.
Free influenza vaccine is available for those at increased risk of serious complications from influenza.
The main at-risk groups include the elderly, women in all stages of pregnancy and Aboriginal people. Others at risk include anyone older than 65 and anyone with a chronic medical condition, including those with diabetes, kidney, heart or lung diseases. People with impaired immunity from medication or cancer should also be vaccinated.
A number of NSW pharmacists now provide commercial flu vaccinations.