More than 160,000 people have contracted the flu in so far this year. Photo: Craig AbrahamAdeadly strain of flu haskilled 94 people in Victorianaged-care facilities so far this year, leading to calls for more frequent vaccinationagainst the virus for those whoare most vulnerable.
Case numbers have continuedto climbacross the country this month, making2017 one of the worst years for influenzain recent years.
More than 160,000 people have contracted the flu inso far this year, Health Department figures show, compared with75,818 recorded cases for the same time last year.
In Victoriathere have been just over 13,000 cases.
Aspokesman for the Victorian Health Department said that fromJanuary 1 until last Thursday there hadbeen 94 deaths from influenzain the state’saged-care facilities.
Last year there were 46 during the same period.
The spokesman confirmed that this wasattributed to H3N2,afast-mutatingstrain of the flu that is defying medical experts’ efforts to stop it.
In Victoria, 70 per cent of people diagnosed with the flu since the beginning of the year have suffered from influenzaAH3N2,n SentinelPractices Research Network statistics show.
Overall in, 74 per cent of cases have been influenzaAH3N2. Thirty-three per cent have been influenzaB, and 4 per cent influenzaAH1N1.
In the United States, a stronger flu vaccine for the elderly has been used since 2009. Photo: Nicolas Walker
ASPREN,anetwork ofgeneral practitionersand primary care providers, collects information on influenza-like illnessand other conditions seen in general practice.
Their datais used forinfectious disease surveillance by health departmentsat stateand federal levels.
“This looks like it’s going to be the worst year since the2009 pandemic, but wecan’tsay to what extentat this stageasthe rates have not gone down yet, so weare unsure if we have reached the peak or not,”ASPRENprogram manager MoniqueChilversaid.
“The H3N2 causes severe disease in the elderlyand the young,and unfortunately our preliminary vaccine effective estimates look like the vaccine hasbeen quite ineffective in these groups.”
Currentlypeople receive their vaccinations in April, months before flu season starts.
ASPREN program manager Monique Chilver
Ms Chilver said the research should look at offering the elderly a second vaccination, to prevent the disease from becoming so widespread, particularly in aged-care facilities.
She said offering a booster vaccine for ns aged over 65, midway through flu season, could help combat the flu’s spread.
“We know that the vaccine isn’t 100 per cent effective, so it makes sense that by having two doses you’re giving a better chance of protection,” she said.
In the United States,astrongerand more effectivefluvaccine for the elderly,Fluzone,hasbeen used since 2009.
FluzonemanufacturerSanofiPasteur said the company waslooking to have the drugapproved byn regulators.
n MedicalAssociation vice-president Dr TonyBartonesaid the flu season had been the worst inat least eight years –but thatthe worst of the season waslikely over.
“It’s beenavery severe flu season, one in which we’ve seenan early spikeandalonger spike than normal inanumber of cases, especially in the northern statesand in Southand, toalesser extent, in central Victoria,” DrBartonesaid.
HesaidtheAMAwouldawaitthe Chief Medical Officer’s influenzareport for 2017 –usually released before the end of spring –before backingany calls for further vaccinations.
“We need lookatall theadviceandassessall the evidence,” he said.
The story,Calls for elderly to be given extra influenza vaccination after deadly flu season, first appeared on The Age.