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No flu deaths recorded in Australia so far this winter

1 month ago 18

There have been no deaths associated with influenza across Australia so far this winter with authorities noting social distancing, increased testing, hand hygiene and people staying home if they are unwell have all contributed to the dramatic change in figures.

According to the Australian Influenza Surveillance Reports, issued every fortnight by the Department of Health, there were 36 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated deaths for 2020 as of May 17, out of 20,323 cases.

In the latest report, to August 9, this figure remained at 36 out of 21,005 cases reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.

There have been no deaths reported across June, July or so far for August.

“The flu is easily spread from person to person. Most infections happen in winter,” the health department states.

“Each year, the influenza virus changes and different strains can circulate in the population.”

The NNDSS was notified of 486 influenza-associated deaths out of 214,377 cases by August 11, 2019 – considered a particularly severe year.

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The health department said any interpretation of the latest data should take into account the impact of social distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, focused testing and “likely changes in health-seeking behaviour of the community including access to alternative streams of acute respiratory infection specific health services”.

Dozens of GP respiratory clinics have been funded by the federal government for people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms while fever clinics have also opened across the country.

“Following a high start to the 2020 interseasonal period, currently, influenza and influenza-like illness activity are lower than average across all systems for this time of year,” the Department of Health’s latest influenza surveillance report states.

“At the national level, notifications of laboratory-confirmed influenza have substantially decreased since mid-March and remain low.

“Current COVID-19 related public health measures and the community’s adherence to public health messages are also likely having an effect on transmission of acute respiratory infections, including influenza.”

But it also noted “data reported from the various influenza surveillance systems may not represent an accurate reflection of influenza activity”.

“Results should be interpreted with caution, especially where comparisons are made to previous influenza seasons,” the department said.

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New South Wales chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant on Monday said the state has “very low rates of influenza circulating”.

“Some of the information that we have received recently is that people are tending to think their illness is influenza,” she told reporters.

“They’re saying: ‘It’s OK I’ve got flu-like symptoms. I must have influenza. I don’t need a COVID test’.”

Dr Chant said if you have respiratory symptoms, “it is most likely that you have COVID, not flu”.

“And so it is essential that people don’t just think, ‘It’s influenza’ or it’s another respiratory virus and come forward for testing,” she said.

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Data in the latest report from NSW Health indicates “limited influenza transmission in the community”.

As of August 2, there had been 12 deaths in NSW this year from influenza and none recorded since April, compared to 127 deaths in 2019.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Saturday said the state had recorded 36,874 cases of flu by the same time period in 2019.

“As of August 10 this year, we’ve only recorded 5918 – a massive 84 per cent drop,” she said on Twitter.

“It’s the result of our social distancing, hand hygiene, and staying home when we’re sick. Keep it up, Queensland.”

Victoria has experienced a 70 per cent drop in the number of flu cases with residents of metropolitan Melbourne currently in stage four lockdown.

More than 150 Victorians died from the flu in 2019, but in the five months to May 31 this year there were no flu-related deaths, the Herald Sun reports.

In that time there were just 4500 confirmed flu cases, compared with 15,358 in the same period last year.

“After a horror flu season last year this is good news and we hope these numbers continue to stay low as Victorians follow the current restrictions in place and stay home,” Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told the newspaper.

A spokesman for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said: “With more awareness than ever before around hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette, we hope these numbers stay low.”

In South Australia, there were 1556 cases of influenza reported to August 8 compared to 22,406 cases reported for the same period last year.

From January to July 2020, Western Australia reported 1171 cases and two others so far in August compared to 21,147 for January to July 2019.

Of note in the figures from WA, there were 10,530 cases reported in June 2019 alone compared to 23 in June 2020.

There were only 190 cases recorded between January 1 and August 2, 2020 in the ACT this year compared to 2757 in the same period last year.

In its latest report, ACT Health said “there continues to be minimal influenza activity” with only five cases notified in the last 15 weeks.

The Department of Health in Tasmania, where there have been four cases of the flu all winter, states: “Current COVID-19 related public health measures and the community’s adhere to public health messages are also likely having an effect on transmission of acute respiratory infections, including influenza.”

Victoria recorded an additional 25 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, bringing the national coronavirus death toll to 421.

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