Flu jab calls made as influenza rates double

TWICE as many people have fallen sick with the flu in the Metro South health district compared to the same time last year.

Data from Queensland Health shows that 1859 lab-confirmed cases of influenza have already been reported across the Metro South health district this year.

Almost 850 people have been hospitalised with the flu across Queensland out of the 10,409 who have already fallen sick.

This year was on track to be worse than last year's flu season, with summer flu rates across the state also at a five-year high.

Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital director infectious diseases unit Dr Krispin Hajkowicz said that in the first three months of this year, Queensland's public hospital emergency departments had seen 5,998 patients with flu-like illness.

"We had a horror flu season in 2017 when more than 56,500 Queenslanders were diagnosed with influenza," she said.

"That number fell in 2018 but flu cases this year are already up on what they were compared with the same time last year."

Dr Hajkowicz urged people to get vaccinated to avoid getting seriously sick ahead of peak flu season in August.

"Flu is a serious illness that can lead to complications, particularly in the very young, elderly and people with complex chronic diseases," she said.

"It can strike at any time and protection diminishes over time, so we encourage everyone to get a flu shot as soon as possible to protect yourself and your family from getting ill and from spreading it to more vulnerable groups like the elderly."

The number of lab-confirmed influenza cases is more than triple the five-year average for the same period so far this year.

About 80 people have also been put into intensive care because of influenza this year.

More people have fallen ill with Influenza A, with 9685 cases split between types H1N1 and H3N2 already clocked up this year.

Four strains of influenza, that include type A's Michigan (H1N1) and Switzerland (H3N2) and type B's Phuket and Colorado, are included in this year's quadrivalent vaccines.

The available trivalent vaccines have the Michigan, Switzerland and Phuket strains.

Free higher immunogenicity trivalent vaccines are available for those older than 65.

The age group is at greater risk of serious complications from influenza infection and have the highest influenza-related number of deaths each year.

The enhanced vaccine for seniors does not provide protection against the Colorado B strain but is considered as able to provide better and broader protection against Michigan, Switzerland and Phuket.

Those eligible for free flu shots

- all children aged from six months to under five years.

- pregnant women

- people 65 years of age or older

- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people

- people with certain medical conditions which increase the risk of influenza disease complications

All other Queenslanders can buy the flu vaccine from their doctor or immunisation provider.