NSW Health advises that there have been 15 new outbreaks reported in aged care facilities across the state this month. So far this year, there have been 78 laboratory-confirmed influenza outbreaks in institutions in NSW, 76 of those in aged care facilities.
Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director, Communicable Diseases Branch at NSW Health, urges the community to be mindful of how quickly the flu can spread and to avoid visiting aged care facilities if they have flu symptoms.
“We ask people if they are unwell to visit their GP as a priority and to also take precautions, as the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the flu,” said Dr Sheppeard. “If you are showing symptoms of having influenza, it is very important that you cover your face when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a rubbish bin. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, and for at least 10 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand rub.”
Although the flu season has reached its peak, high numbers of people aged over 65 and children under five years, continue to present at emergency departments with flu symptoms. As of September 8, there have been 20,394 cases of influenza reported in NSW, 3060 of those in the past week. Flu Emergency Department presentations were particularly elevated in the Western Sydney and Mid North Coast Local Health Districts (LHDs), and at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Kempsey Hospital, Broken Hill Base Hospital and Royal North Shore Hospital.
Notifications represent only a portion of the influenza illness in the community, as only people who see a doctor and have a throat swab taken are notified to NSW Health.
Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. There are two main types of influenza virus that cause infection in humans - types A, and B - and many sub-types or strains. The 2015 seasonal influenza vaccines for Australia is well-matched to three of the strains of influenza circulating in NSW, and the new “quadrivalent” vaccine is well-matched to all four circulating strains.