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Flu season 2014: who’s hit hardest?

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Wondered whether flu season 2014 is a particularly bad year? It’s true – and confirmed by the Influenza Specialist Group.

And one particular population group is hit hardest: predictably, it’s Mum.

There’s been a sharp increase in the number of laboratory confirmed cases of flu this year, mostly swine flu, the ISG says: they’ve almost doubled to 20,979 cases of flu already, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Many more cases of flu go unreported each year.

The stats show more than 8259 laboratory-confirmed flu cases among people aged 20 to 49, with about 25% more women than men being hit.

The majority of notifications were in Queensland with 6818 cases.

According to an ISG focus group, 70% of females in Australia aren’t vaccinated against flu. The group says that mums are at the frontline, as children bring the disease home from school and daycare.

Children are much more likely than adults to come down with flu in any given season – a 20 to 50% chance compared to a 10-30% chance for adults – with up to a whopping 70% of kids contracting the virus during pandemic years.

Busy Gold Coast mum Gai O’Dwyer is speaking out about the importance of the flu vaccine following a nasty bout of the illness earlier this year, when she learned that the flu is not just a bad case of the sniffles: it’s a potentially deadly illness.

One perfectly normal Friday evening, Gai started to experience severe headache and body cramps. Over the weekend her symptoms grew worse, and a trip to the GP confirmed flu – specifically, Influenza A.

The disease knocked her flat for six weeks, with her husband having to take two weeks off work to care for her and their young daughter.

“I just had no idea that the flu could do this to me,” says Gai.

“I’m fit, I’m young and healthy. I very rarely get sick. This experience was physically, emotionally and financially very challenging for me and my family.

“Had I known I could have prevented all this, I would have been vaccinated a long time ago.”

Flu is serious

The ISG says up to a third of Australians, many of them younger people, could face an increased risk of severe complications if they come down with flu.

But only 30 to 40% of people in these high risk groups are being immunised, says Dr Alan Hampson, chairman of the Influenza Specialist Group.

“People tend to think of the flu as an illness that has its worst impact on the elderly,” he says.

“The reality is that influenza results in 18,000 hospitalisations every year.

“Many of those seriously affected are not elderly people. They are regular working people.”

He says ISG is still encouraging vaccination – but “the window is rapidly closing, because your body needs time to respond to the vaccine.”

Once people become ill with flu, they should be encouraged to present to their GP to consider prescription antivirals, provided they can be taken within the first two days of symptom onset to be effective.

They can also be reminded that antibiotics do not work on viral illnesses like flu.

A recent NPS MedicineWise study showed that two in three Australian workers still believed antibiotics were effective in treating flu.