Despite the unseasonally warm weather, Australia’s flu season has come early, with a massive jump in cases compared with the same time last year and almost three times the number of deaths.
The latest Department of Health data shows that 99 people died from flu in Australia between January 1 and Monday this week.
Last year there were 34 influenza deaths in the same period, with the five-year average also at 34 deaths. The number of notified cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza, which included updated data from Victoria, was 54,432, compared with 13,444 notified cases last year.
The five-year average for notifications in the same January 1 to May 20 period was 9855.
The Department of Health’s Australian influenza surveillance report, current to May 5, points to an earlier than normal start to the flu season.
The spike in notified cases normally begins in late June or early July, peaking between August and September and declining by early November.
The Department of Health report says there is no indication yet of the severity of this year’s season, nor the impact on society.
Last year’s season was relatively subdued — 58,844 laboratory confirmed cases compared with 251,165 in 2017, the worst year since the 2009 pandemic.
Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said:
“We are seeing a lot of communicable diseases spread through overseas travel, that’s certainly been the case in terms of measles cases and flu cases,”
“We have seen a very significant summer flu season this year as a result of people coming back from the northern hemisphere with the flu and that spreading in the community.”
Ms Mikakos said the death of three children was unusual.
“(Juvenile flu deaths) tend to be associated with situations where there might be other illnesses and vulnerabilities involved with those children,” she said.
Authorities are urging people to be vaccinated against flu.