Status:
Resolved
Health advisory:
170008
Date Issued:
25 Aug 2017
Issued by:
Professor Charles Guest, Chief Health Officer, Victoria
Issued to:
Health professionals and consumers

Key messages

  • Seasonal influenza rates are peaking currently and are at near-record levels, leaving many Victorians unwell and placing severe pressure on health services and primary care.
  • Respiratory outbreaks, primarily in aged care settings, are at highest recorded levels.
  • Promote prevention measures including vaccination, good hygiene practices and social distancing for those who are unwell to prevent influenza spreading further.
  • Vaccination will provide protection and with around two months of the season remaining, is still a valuable protection measure.
  • Influenza must be notified in writing within 5 days of laboratory confirmation.

What is the issue?

Influenza rates are high across Australia and are at near-record levels in Victoria. Very high numbers of people are presenting to emergency departments and general practices. Vaccination and other prevention measures should be promoted to help stop the spread of influenza in the community.

Emergency departments and general practices are under pressure so phone ahead for GP appointments. Also consider talking to a pharmacist or phoning Nurse-On-Call on 1300 60 60 24. Nurse-On-Call is available 24 hours a day. Victoria also has 12 Supercare Pharmacies that are open 24/7.

Who is at risk?

Severe disease from seasonal influenza is more likely with advanced age; infancy; chronic conditions, such as heart or lung disease, renal failure, diabetes and chronic neurological conditions; immuno-compromise; obesity, pregnancy and smoking. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also generally experience more severe illness.

Severe disease may also occur in otherwise healthy children and young adults. Annual attack rates in the general community are typically five to ten per cent, but may be up to 20 per cent in some years.

Symptoms and transmission

Symptoms include fever, headache, myalgia, lethargy, coryza, sore throat and cough. Infections in children may also be associated with gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Croup is a common presentation in children.

Most symptoms resolve within seven days, although the cough may persist for longer. Complications of influenza include middle ear infections, secondary bacterial pneumonia and exacerbation of underlying chronic health conditions.

A clinical diagnosis can be confirmed by culture or antigen testing of appropriate respiratory specimens, such as nasopharyngeal aspirate or nose and throat swabs, or through blood tests for serology.

Prevention / treatment

Free annual influenza vaccine is provided and recommended for the following groups in Victoria:

  • people aged 65 years and older
  • pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to 4 years of age inclusive, and 15 years and older
  • residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • those aged 6 months or older with conditions predisposing to severe illness following influenza infection.

Both the funded National Immunisation Program influenza vaccine and non-funded vaccine can be obtained from GPs or accredited immunisation providers. This includes pharmacists participating in Victoria's Pharmacist-administered vaccination program.

Good handwashing practice is a key prevention measure. Anyone with symptoms should visit their GP for treatment or local pharmacy for medication.

Encourage those who are ill to remain in home isolation and avoid public gatherings until well.

Clinical information

Vaccine orders: Immunisation providers can order the National Immunisation Program influenza vaccine by visiting health.vic's Vaccine order forms section. Completed order forms should be emailed to orders@onelink.com.au or faxed to 1300 682 507. Please allow three business days for processing and delivery of your vaccine order.

Information about influenza is available in health.vic's Infectious Diseases section.

Notifications: via https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/public-health/infectious-diseases/notify-condition-now or by telephone on 1300 651 160 or faxed on 1300 651 170.

It's a good time to review preparedness and Pandemic planning. For more information, see the pandemic influenza section.

Consumer information

Fact sheet on influenza immunisation at the Better Health Channel

Hand Hygiene: be a Soapy Hero at the Better Health Channel