Flu-complacency at dangerous levels in Australia

Article published 31 March 2023

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Flu-complacency at dangerous levels in Australia

The Australian Attitudes to Influenza Index suggests that Australians are underestimating the seriousness of flu: half of people surveyed.

 

According to the latest data from the Department of Health, there have been almost 14,500 confirmed cases of the flu already at the end of March. In 2022, this volume of confirmed cases wasn’t seen until early May.

Influenza Attitudinal Index

The Australian Attitudes to Influenza Index suggests that Australians are underestimating the seriousness of flu. The index is an initiative of CSL. CSL is one of the largest influenza vaccine providers in the world. It therefore has an interest in people taking flu seriously.

The index asked 1,017 adults about their attitudes to flu. The results showed that 33 per cent of adults say that flu is only ‘somewhat serious’. This means these respondents think that it can get people very sick and put them in hospital, but that they cannot die from it.

A further 14 per cent thought flu is not very, or not at all, serious.

That’s almost half of all people surveyed who had completely wrong ideas about the flu.

Younger people are less likely to take flu seriously than older people. Only 20 per cent in the age group 18 to 24 think you can die from flu. For people over-65, that percentage is 60 per cent.

The research also gave insight into Australian attitudes towards flu vaccination, with 58 per cent of Australians unaware of what prevention options are available.

Consequences of flu complacency

Professor Robert Booy, leading paediatrician and infectious disease expert, says the survey results are concerning given that flu circulation is returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“People need to remember that we’ve had some bad flu seasons in Australia, with modelling data from 2010-2019 estimating that we averaged nearly 2,800 annual deaths related to flu, with more than 6,400 estimated deaths in 2017 and over 5,200 in 2019”, he said.

“We’re already seeing higher rates of influenza compared to this time last year. It is almost impossible to predict when the flu season will peak, so it’s important to talk to your GP or pharmacist now about your choices for prevention. It’s also important to maintain regular hand washing, staying at home if you’re feeling unwell, and coughing or sneezing into your elbow if you don’t have a tissue to help minimise the spread of flu.”

Dr Zac Turner is a GP with a focus on preventative health. He is part of a campaign to raise awareness of the disease. He’s urging all Australians to stay vigilant about the flu and to talk to their GP or pharmacist about the best ways to protect themselves.

“In my experience, there is a lack of awareness around the potential severity of flu, and the difference between the flu and a common cold. While many people have fairly mild flu symptoms, for some it can be a very serious disease” , he said.

“Every year, hospitals receive more admissions for flu than they should as the severity of this disease is largely preventable. Even those who don’t get significant complications, can still experience symptoms lasting up to a week. This means people may miss out on work, social events, holidays and other commitments.”

“I strongly encourage Australians to talk to their doctor or pharmacist about flu and their prevention options, including vaccination, which can help people understand which option is right for them. Having this conversation will help people understand the best way to protect themselves and others in their family or community.”

The solution

Flu vaccinations are available in most pharmacies now. Don’t jag the jab!

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