By Dr Brett Sutton*
With Australia’s influenza season underway, it’s time to talk about vaccinations and why they’re important for everyone, especially at-risk groups, which includes Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.
Aboriginal children aged six months to five years are at greater risk of severe flu and its potentially life-threatening complications than non-Aboriginal children of the same ages.
And the same goes for Aboriginal people aged 15 years and over. All pregnant women, people over 65 and anyone with a weakened immune system are also more vulnerable to flu complications.
But flu vaccinations save lives. And this year in Victoria they will be free for Aboriginal peoples aged six months to five years, and 15 years and over.
The flu is not like a cold. Symptoms last on average one to two weeks but for some it takes several weeks to recover. It kills more than 3500 Australians each year and is a highly contagious viral infection, spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes.
Typically, Australia’s annual flu season occurs between April and October.
For the best possible protection this year, my advice to all Victorians is to be vaccinated anytime from mid-April onwards. This should ensure they are protected by the time the disease begins to spread more widely in the community.
For people under 65 and without significant existing medical conditions, getting vaccinated at any time is perfectly okay. No one should miss an opportunity to be vaccinated if it has already been already scheduled.
The record number of flu notifications last year in Victoria alone is a timely reminder about the importance of vaccination – there were more than 48,000 cases – and tragically a number of deaths were reported.
Our message this winter is simple: ‘You never forget the flu – don’t forget your flu shot.’
When more people are vaccinated, fewer people become ill or suffer life-threatening complications from influenza.
Also, those with chronic conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, chronic neurological conditions and smokers should all be immunised. All these groups were among those who were affected by flu last year.
And remember, we all have the potential to spread flu. Do what you can to avoid getting and sharing it – wash your hands thoroughly, cough into your elbow and get a shot in the arm.
If you’re really sick, stay away from work and other places where you’ll spread the flu. And don’t send ill children to school. They can sometimes be the ‘super-spreaders’ of diseases such as influenza.
Influenza vaccine will be available from general practitioners. Many of our pharmacies are also able to provide flu vaccines as well as advice about the disease.
If you’ve got the flu, visit your doctor or talk to a pharmacist.
Everyone needs to prepare for the coming flu season.
Additional information can be found on the Better Health Channel: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/flu-influenza-immunisation
Victoria’s Aboriginal Community Controlled Health (ACCHOs) organisations are involved in providing influenza immunisations. Details of ACCHOs can be found at:
* Dr Brett Sutton is Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer.