2/9/17 AMA Victoria President Dr. Lorraine Baker speaks to the media about the 2017 Influenza A epidemic in Victoria. Photograph by Chris HopkinsThe death toll from ‘s influenza epidemic has risen as doctors urge members of the public to get vaccinated against the deadly strain.
On Saturday the deaths of six residents at a Tasmanian nursing home were confirmed in what has become the biggest flu season on record.
On Friday Victorian authorities said seven people aged between 70 and 94 had died after a flu outbreak at a nursing home in the state’s north-east.
A further 100 people were left ill following the outbreak at Wangaratta’s St John’s Retirement Village over the past two weeks.
Tasmania’s Uniting AgeWell said on Saturday it had lost six residents to an Influenza A outbreak at the Strathdevon aged care facility at Latrobe between August 9 and 16.
Despite 95 per cent of residents receiving this year’s vaccination, 31 contracted the virus, it said.
Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has ordered a review into the St John’s outbreak and said the government was considering various responses, possibly including compulsory vaccinations for all aged care workers.
“No option is ruled off the table because the paramount thing for the Turnbull government is that we protect citizens in our country from any form of virulent infection,” he said in a press conference on Saturday, foreshadowing an announcement in coming days.
Mr Wyatt encouraged people to get vaccinations if they were regularly coming into contact with vulnerable people or consider other protective measures when sick with the flu.
“Let’s not expose people to a potential health problem that could see them losing their life,” he said.
Mr Wyatt cautioned against transferring patients to another facility during an outbreak as it risks spreading the flu.
A growing percentage of the population going without a flu shot this year and a particularly virulent strain of the illness has caused the number of cases in Victoria to swell to 11,845, more than double this time last year, the n Medical Association says.
More than 105,000 flu cases have been confirmed nationally, the largest number ever diagnosed in one season, breaking a record set in 2015.
The AMA’s Victorian president Dr Lorraine Baker said it was not too late in the season to get the vaccine.
“There is an under-vaccinated population,” Dr Baker said. “This is a very virulent strain of Influenza A.”
In Victoria, annual immunisation against the flu is free for people deemed at risk, such as pregnant women and those aged 65 and over.
“[If] people are willing to pay for private vaccination … then we can increase the herd immunity in the community. “But we are not getting the same level of herd immunity out there,” Dr Baker said.
Dr Baker said the Influenza A strain was included in the current immunisation program.
“Immunisation provides some protection, but even immunised people have suffered this infection, usually at a much less severe rate,” she said.
Dr Baker said the elderly were at particular risk of developing complications from the flu. “This particular strain seems to be affecting, in the fatal sense, an older population.”
He said it was important that 95 per cent of the population was vaccinated.
“Also [I] ask people to be responsible citizens and if they feel unwell on any given day, especially with a fever, sore throat and a runny nose, to stay home. … and protect your community … from potential infection “