The flu season has arrived early in NSW, bringing with it the highest number of cases ever recorded for the first six months of a year.
There have been more than 1730 flu cases recorded this month and NSW Health is predicting the peak is still two to five weeks away when numbers will likely surpass 10,000 a month.
A marked increase in European travel during the summer months means more people are battling the illness outside the winter season.
And this, coupled with more people now opting to get tested for the flu, ensures numbers are now staying high year-round. People who aren’t vaccinated need to immediately get the shot to ensure they are protected.
NSW Health’s head of communicable disease Dr Vicky Sheppeard said the flu season had started early. “The past couple of years it has peaked in September, but it is coming in June and July this year,” Dr Sheppeard said.
Health authorities predict when the season will peak based on the rate of positive results to flu tests. In NSW about 5 per cent of test results have been positive for several weeks, indicating the season is well and truly under way — and will worsen. During the peak positive tests will usually account for about 30 per cent of all swabs taken by GPs.
Dr Sheppeard said the flu test was easy and accessible now, which also led to higher numbers in the community as more people were detected and treated.
She said Australians’ love of European travels during our summer meant those who return with flu drive up numbers, ensuring a steady flow of cases.
In January, NSW recorded more than 750 cases, the highest on record for that month.
The numbers in February, March, April and May were also the highest on record, NSW Health data shows.
NSW Opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said the numbers were concerning. “We are seeing a surge in official cases but these are just those who go to the doctor for tests,” he said.
To date, there have been 5633 confirmed cases in NSW compared with just 4477 by the same time in 2009 when a horror flu pandemic was taking hold in Australia.