THE annual flu season has hit early on the North Coast with a steep increase in reported cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza in recent weeks.
The North Coast Public Health Unit, which covers the area from Laurieton in the south to the Queensland border in the north, has received 393 flu notifications in the first six months of this year including 174 notifications in June.
Director of North Coast Public Health, Paul Corben, said the flu season is expected to peak in the coming weeks.
"Now is a good time to get vaccinated if you haven't already done so," Mr Corben said.
This year's flu vaccine covers the four influenza strains circulating in Australia.
"Flu vaccination is free for higher-risk groups including pregnant women, people with certain chronic medical conditions - such as severe asthma, diabetes or heart disease - and Aboriginal people aged six months to five years, or over 15 years.
"Vaccination is the best protection against seasonal influenza. Those eligible for a free vaccine should make an appointment with their local doctor as soon as possible. Other people can see their GP or chemist."
A dramatic increase in new influenza strains has sparked calls for governments and the public to take stronger precautions as flu season gets underway in Australia.
University of NSW researchers from the school of public health discovered seven new strains of influenza had appeared in humans in the past five years, in work published in the Archives of Public Health.
There have been only 19 separate strains discovered in the past 100 years.
As well as getting a flu shot, the following steps can help prevent the spread of flu:
- Avoid people you know are sick with flu
- Avoid crowded places where there may be other people sick with flu
- If you have the symptoms, don't visit vulnerable people or aged care facilities
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, use disposable tissues, and dispose of tissues immediately after use
- Wash your hands regularly, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.