Doctors urge to get flu jab early to protect against 'Brisbane'


Australians are being urged to get vaccinated ahead of the flu season, with a particularly hostile strain expected this year.

As Australia braces for another severe flu season, medical experts are urging people to get their flu jab before the beginning of May.

In line with a recommendation from the World Health Organisation, the 2018 vaccination will offer protection for the Brisbane flu.

The B strain form of influenza, first detected in the Queensland capital in 2008, is now recognised as one of the most dangerous in the world.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon says the WHO advice follows extensive research.

"The health authorities around the world identify the strains of virus that have the greatest ability to cause disease or the greatest ability to cause death and are of the greatest prevalence," he told SBS News. 

"It is the influenza vaccination programs in Australia and around the world are extremely expensive, and a lot of work and a lot of thought that goes into making it as effective as possible and that means targeting the most dangerous strains." 

Dr Gannon stresses that any form of flu can be deadly and is warning against complacency.

"Influenza is the greatest cause of death, disability and disease in our community. I'd shudder to think what it would be like without the preventative capacity presented by the vaccination program," he said. 

President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia's Queensland Branch Professor Trent Twomey says there are two different types of flu vaccinations.

Only one of the two, he warns, protects against the Brisbane virus, as well as three other strains, including two A and another B.

"There's the trivalent and the quadrivalent, and what we are saying is for those people, specifically in Brisbane but also people that are worried about that particular B strain virus, to make sure they get the quadrivalent as opposed the trivalent flu vaccination," he told SBS News. 

2017 - one of Queensland's worst years on record for flu 

In 2017, more than 56,000 cases of influenza were diagnosed in Queensland, making it one of the state's worst seasons on record, with 2961 cases alone between January 1 and April 1.

But statistics show that this year, 3242 people have already been struck by the bug - almost 300 more than this time last year, making it the busiest start to a year since 2008.

Victoria also suffered a horror season.

"What we did see in Queensland last year, and in Victoria was a second spike in lethal influenza cases in spring and most of those were in the elderly," said Dr Gannon.   

Community responsibility 

Dr Gannon says the elderly and others at high risk are covered for free vaccinations under the Federal Government.

"The elderly - and of course this year, they are going to enjoy the protection of an even stronger vaccine for the first time this year but other groups as well."

"Those with chronic diseases, those taking immune suppressant medication, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islanders , some groups of children," he said.

Associate Professor Twomey insists for those who don't fall into those categories, there is still a community responsibility to get immunised.

"So I am a white middle class male, but I still have an obligation to make sure that I go and get the flu vaccination because I want to make sure I'm not a carrier of the virus, and the other people that I come into contact with, grandparents, my parents, my children aren't exposed to this strain."

"It is about herd immunity and we all have a responsibility to get vaccinated."

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