Flu epidemic: 400 per cent increase on last year

SOARING: Flu season has peaked early in the lower Hunter.
SOARING: Flu season has peaked early in the lower Hunter.

Peak flu season has hit the lower Hunter early, with a staggering 400 per cent rise in diagnosed cases compared to this time last year. 

Figures obtained from Hunter New England Health show that, as of August 3, 260 cases of influenza had been confirmed in the lower Hunter – a rise of more than 400 per cent from 49 cases at the same time in 2016. 

It also far eclipses figures from the previous years, with 66 cases diagnosed at this point in 2015 and 72 in 2014. 

Hunter New England Heath public health physician, Dr David Durrheim, said the figures indicated that flu season was peaking early this year. 

“Often the peak is towards the end of August, but it appears to be happening earlier this year,” Dr Durrheim said. 

Dr Durrheim emphasised that the figures were only from cases that had been medically confirmed. 

“It only represents a fraction of actual flu cases. Most cases of influenza aren’t diagnosed,” he said. 

Dr Durrheim said that while this year’s flu season had appeared to peak early, it was difficult to gauge whether they were on track to it being a bumper season.

Last year, 805 cases of flu were confirmed in the lower Hunter health area, with 521 in 2015 and 531 in the year before that.  

“The figures could be similar to earlier seasons, but the peak has come earlier,” Dr Durrheim said.

“The most important thing is that we don’t contribute to it being a bumper season.”

Using hand sanitiser, washing hands frequently, and coughing into the crook of the arm were simple steps that could be taken to greatly reduce the risk of spreading, he said. 

The figures fit in with the wider Hunter New England Health area, with about 1200 cases confirmed across the region this year to date, compared to 399 last year.