Deadly flu warning as illness kills seven people
SYDNEY has been hit by a fierce early flu season, with seven people dead already and double the cases recorded when compared to the same time last year.
New figures from NSW Health reveal the spike in cases - mostly influenza A - was the worst in eight years for late summer/autumn.
It is partly being driven by travellers returning from the northern hemisphere.
The situation is so bad for the elderly that health authorities are warning families not to visit ageing relatives in nursing homes if they have a cough or runny nose.
Eight outbreaks have occurred at nursing homes in February and another four broke out in hospital wards.
All up, 144 residents in institutions across the city have been hit by 13 outbreaks with 14 people taken to hospital.
"There were also seven deaths in residents linked to these outbreaks, all of whom were noted to have significant comorbidities," the latest NSW Health Influenza Surveillance Report stated.
Influenza labs have confirmed 2244 cases in the four weeks to March 3, almost double the 1144 notifications in February last year.
The worst hot spots for outbreaks include Sydney's south and east - where more than 118 cases were recorded in a week - followed closely by Northern Sydney and Western Sydney.
NSW Health's Communicable Diseases branch director Vicky Sheppeard said while last year experienced the lowest number of cases since 2013, the national reporting rate was now running at three times the average for this time of year.
"Some of the increase follows a late influenza season across tropical parts of Australia, which affected northern NSW, and now it's likely that travellers returning from the northern hemisphere are bringing flu home with them," Dr Sheppeard said.
"Unusually high levels of influenza activity are being seen in most states and territories, with the national reporting rate more than three times the average for this time of year," she added.
Australia's flu season doesn't usually get underway until May or June.
Last year's winter flu season was the mildest in five years, following on from a horror year in 2017.