VULNERABLE: Health authorities have been concerned to see outbreaks at some local aged care facilities in recent weeks.
VULNERABLE: Health authorities have been concerned to see outbreaks at some local aged care facilities in recent weeks.

Massive spike in flu cases on the Northern Rivers

THE Northern Rivers recorded 572 influenza notifications in the November 2018 until February 2019 period, almost eight times the five-year average for the same period in previous years.

Director of the North Coast Public Health Unit, Paul Corben, said the reasons for the unseasonal spike in flu presentations were unclear.

"The reasons for these unseasonably high reports of influenza are unclear and they follow a relatively mild 2018 influenza season," Mr Corben said.

"It is considered that overseas travel combined with changes in more readily accessible and sensitive testing for influenza may be contributors to higher influenza levels during the 2018-19 summer."

Since November 2018, there has been an unusual increase in influenza activity reported by most Australian states and territories, with nationally reported cases in the last three months (November 1 2018 to 28 February 2019) more than three times the average for that period in the past five years.

There is a similar situation in NSW with 6,265 notifications in the same period, which is about 3.2 times the five-year average.

"It is important to note these numbers are still well below what we traditionally expect to see during the peak flu season," Mr Corben added.

"While it's unlikely the current situation will lead to widespread infection in the community, it has been concerning to see outbreaks at some aged care facilities in recent weeks.

"If you have a fever, cough or runny nose please postpone visiting elderly relatives until you recover.

"Frequent hand washing is one of the best lines of defence against flu, together with annual vaccination," he added.

Mr Corden said immunisation providers and aged care facilities can order 2019 influenza vaccine now from the State Vaccine Centre.

"Influenza vaccines will be delivered to providers once supplies are received from manufacturers, which is expected to be from mid-April," he said.

Vaccination clinics should only be scheduled once vaccine has been delivered.

"NSW Health wrote to GPs and Aboriginal Medical Services about the 2019 influenza vaccine program last week. An immunisation provider toolkit is available on the NSW Health website."

"We encourage parents to take up the offer of the free vaccine for children under five, as children in this age group are particularly vulnerable to influenza."

Children being vaccinated for the first time require two doses of the vaccine, one month apart.

The flu vaccine is free for pregnant women, children up to five years of age and people over 65 years of age, Aboriginal people and those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart problems.