The peak of flu season is not expected until July or August. Picture: iStock
The peak of flu season is not expected until July or August. Picture: iStock

Weak vaccine blamed for surge of flu cases

AN almost 50 per cent jump in people clogging up hospitals with illnesses that could have been prevented is being blamed on a surge of influenza cases and a weak flu vaccine that failed to protect people. 

A new report has found that "vaccine-preventable" hospitalisations in Australia increased by 46.5 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Health experts say 2017 was the worst year for the flu in a decade with more than a quarter of a million confirmed cases recorded.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report also showed that of 85,136 "potentially-preventable" hospitalisations that year, a total 57,198 - or 67 per cent - were for "pneumonia and vaccine-preventable influenza".

A weak flu vaccine has been blamed for the surge of flu cases. Picture: iStock
A weak flu vaccine has been blamed for the surge of flu cases. Picture: iStock

The situation was most severe in NSW which had the highest number of vaccine-preventable presentations in the country, with more than 30,000 presentations, of which 22,062 were for pneumonia and influenza.

The report noted more than twice the typical number of people were admitted to hospital for influenza in 2017.

It said this was "due mostly to the low level of effectiveness of the 2017 seasonal influenza vaccine against the most common strain of the virus".

It comes as this year's flu season is tracking to be worse than the horror 2017 season and one of the worst on record, with more than 40,000 influenza cases in Australia so far.

Nine people in NSW have died of the flu so far this year, as have at least 25 people in Queensland - the peak is not expected to hit until July or August.

Immunisation Coalition chairman Professor Robert Booy there were 250,000 influenza notifications in 2017 but "the true number was at least 10 times as high as that" because most people are not tested for influenza when they're sick.

 

"To have an almost 50 per cent rise in admission to hospital for vaccine-preventable, largely influenza-preventable vaccination, is totally explained by what happened in 2017," he said.

"First we got a relatively virulent, meaning nasty virus of influenza A - the subtype is H3N2 - and that is especially problematic for the elderly who if they get influenza are most likely to be hospitalised and die."

"The second problem we had was that the vaccine we made against influenza A H3 in 2017 was poorly protective in the elderly."

"Our estimates of its value were at best 10 per cent protection (for seniors)."

Prof Booy said both strains of influenza A circulating this year are covered under the flu vaccine, which was "protecting well" so far.

"But there's always a possibility in a month or two the accumulated mutations in one or the other virus could lead to a virus that starts to escape the immunity of vaccine," he added.

"That's the worry we have over the next one to three months."



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