Doctors brace for influenza epidemic

DOCTORS are preparing for what could become a horror flu season as the number of influenza cases surges.

There have already been 1790 notifications of influenza in Queensland so far this year, compared with 343 last year.

Around a quarter of the reported cases were the dreaded influenza A H1N1, swine flu strain.

Figures show the Sunshine Coast seasonal influenza infection rates per 100,000 are 21.8.

The region has had 81 cases this year, 25 more than the neighbouring Wide Bay region, 13 more than the Gold Coast and six more than Rockhampton.

The figure could be much higher, as this is just those who were sick enough to seek medical attention.

Nambour GP Wayne Herdy said GP clinics had experienced a “five-fold” increase in recent weeks.

“This is because we are heading indoors and huddling together,” Dr Herdy said.

“Germs can spread much faster in confined places such as shopping centres and movie cinemas.”

Dr Herdy said anyone wishing to reduce the risk of becoming unwell should be vaccinated.

“The northern hemisphere is experiencing a mini swine flu epidemic,” he said.

“It is unlikely this strain will spread across Australia in levels seen in 2009 because of the effective vaccination uptake.

“But it is important for the public to continue to be vaccinated, especially to protect those most at risk.”

Dr Andrew Langley, from the Sunshine Coast Public Health Unit, agreed.

“Queensland Health provides free vaccinations for this group, which are available through GPs,” Dr Langley said.

“This includes pregnant women, people aged 65 years and older, and indigenous people aged 15 years and older.

“The vaccination includes protection against influenza A H3N2 strain, influenza A H1N1 strain, and an influenza B strain.”

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