Flu season risks should be taken seriously

NSW Health Director of Communicable Disease Branch, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said it was important the community took seriously the risks associated with the winter flu season.

In susceptible people flu symptoms can quickly progress to become life-threatening. Dr Sheppeard stressed that it was not too late in the season for susceptible people to get a vaccination.

“While the first week of August has been unseasonably warm, in the past few days NSW Health has noted that several indicators are pointing towards an increase in influenza severity across metropolitan Sydney and the Hunter region,” Dr Sheppeard said.

The advice from NSW Health to prevent flu is to get vaccinated against influenza, especially if you are at risk of severe disease or care for people who are at risk.

Other simple steps that can help keep you and your family healthier include:

o Wash your hands regularly with soap and running water;

o Turn away from others and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, if a tissue is not available cough or sneeze into your elbow;

o Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or have a fever;

o Stay at home if you are sick and keep sick children at home from school and other activities.

The influenza vaccine is available, free, to pregnant women and people considered vulnerable to severe influenza, including those with chronic illness, persons 65 and older, and Aboriginal people aged 15 years and older from their GP.

Dr Sheppeard stressed the need for pregnant women to be vaccinated against the virus during any stage of their pregnancy.

“Vaccination during pregnancy is safe. The seasonal flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years and continues to be the best defence against flu for women and their babies,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“It reduces the risk to pregnant women of serious illness and can actually provide protection to their babies through the transfer of antibodies. That protection can last up to six months after birth.

“Babies born to mums who were vaccinated also have lower rates of serious infection.”

Dr Sheppeard reminded those visiting friends and family in the hospital to practice good hand hygiene by using the alcohol-based gel or foam provided in every ward to reduce the spread of germs. People who have flu symptoms should postpone visits to hospitals or aged care facilities until they have recovered. 

Concerned parents and families can seek health advice and information via the free Health Direct Australia service, staffed by registered nurses 24-hours a day, on 1800 022 222. 

For a range of health information visit www.health.nsw.gov.au

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