A rise in overseas holidays is a possible factor in the surge of influenza cases recorded this year, Griffith University’s Dr Romayne Moore says.
Dr Moore, Academic GP Registrar at the School of Medicine, also attributes part of the blame to a less than optimal take-up of the seasonal vaccination jab for influence.
“Unless we get just about everyone taking it up, there is always going to be a chance of a resurgence,” she said.
Department of Health and Ageing statistics to the end of September showed almost 25,000 reported cases of influenza in Australia this year, with Queensland leading the numbers with 10,000 cases compared with 5,000 in NSW, 4,400 in South Australia and 2,800 in Victoria.
This represents a significant spike compared with the same period in 2010 when 8,282 confirmed cases of influenza had been entered into the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.
At that time Queensland accounted for 1,850 cases compared with 2,719 in South Australia and 1,363 in Victoria.
“With the Australian economy so strong and people more inclined to travel overseas, they may be picking up different strains of the ‘flu and bringing them back with them,” Dr Moore said.
“When you relax on holidays abroad, you potentially expose yourself to bugs you have no immunity to,” she said.
The extent of overseas travel also means that Swine ‘flu remains a factor in Australia.
The Swine ‘flu pandemic in 2009 may also help to explain the increase in reported cases.
“I would surmise that part of the reason might be that we as GPs and doctors might be testing for influenza viruses more often in light of increased awareness,” Dr Moore said.
“In the same way, people may be seeking treatment from a GP who then proceeds to testing for influenza more often than they would have last year, as a response to the publicity and concern surrounding Swine ‘flu.”
Dr Moore said a significant number of cases of the highly contagious whooping cough had also been observed this year.
“Pertussis (whooping cough) involves symptoms similar to the ‘flu. When people come in to us after two or three weeks with ‘flu-like symptoms, we are testing for whooping cough and have found a significant increase in number of cases.
“This is also related to suboptimal take-up of vaccines and boosters.”
Dr Moore says ‘flu should generally be managed symptomatically with suitable rest, fluids and paracetamol. If the symptoms persist for more than a week or two, a visit to the doctor is recommended.
“If symptoms are severe, including high fevers and generalised muscle aches, the doctor should be consulted early as anti-viral medications are available that reduce the severity and duration of influenza.
“People with underlying chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and cancer should get checked out if their symptoms go anywhere beyond a common cold.”
She said for some people with a more severe cold or flu, it might be advisable to stay home from work on the one or two days when the illness is at its most extreme.
“If we kept everyone off work for the entire duration of any respiratory illness, it wouldn’t be practical. It would mean a lot of work places wouldn’t have anyone there.
“However, employees with influenza should be very aware of their proximity to colleagues with background illnesses or who are pregnant when they sneeze and cough in the workplace, and should ensure that they are paying close attention to hand washing and hygiene.”