Yass Valley relatively safe from early influenza peak

Flu season peaks early in 2017.
Flu season peaks early in 2017.

While most of the state is facing an early peak in the influenza season, Yass Valley has so far been spared the worst based on data by NSW Health.

The July 24–30 NSW Health influenza surveillance report shows seasonal influenza activity rising and nearing its peak, about a month earlier compared with 2013–16.

Influenza notifications and confirmations remained highest in Sydney metropolitan LHDs. Population attack rates remained lower in the south and inland parts of the state although increasing.

Video: Tribune reporter Toby Vue gets vaccinated at Yass Pharmacy

The average notifications of confirmed influenza for the past four weeks in Southern NSW is 21, second behind far west NSW’s average of one. Western Sydney recorded the highest average of 457.

The average rate per 100,000 population in Southern NSW is 9.93, which is third lowest after Far West NSW (3.2) and Murrumbidgee (9.7). In 2016, however, the average notifications for Southern NSW was 7 and rate was 3.36.

Dr Ray Burn at Old Linton Medical Practice said the cold has been much more common.

“While the influenza virus has been prominent elsewhere in NSW, the incidence in Yass Valley has been lower. The respiratory ailment currently hitting Yass Valley has been characterised by deep cough, lethargy and thick tenacious sputum,” he said.

Dr Burn said the incidence of the flu itself has been reduced by “the very active promotion of the use of the current flu vaccine”.

“Improved on previous years, the formulation now carries vaccine against the four strains most likely to hit us and so far the news is good,” he said.

Similarly, pharmacist Andrew Douglas said he had seen more residents getting vaccinated in 2017 compared with 2016. “Which is good because of easy access to pharmacists and doctors,” he said.

Dr Burn, however, said residents should still take precautions as 2017 influenza activity in Southern NSW was still higher than 2016.

“Hand hygiene using antiseptic alcohol-based hand washes are very important in limiting spread in communities,” he said.

Dr Burn also said the elderly are one of the most vulnerable members at risk. “Precautions such as lock-downs in nursing homes are vital,” he said.

His statement comes after Yass Valley Aged Care’s Horton House was locked down on July 21. The RSL LifeCare Thomas Eccles Gardens was also locked down.

Lyn Morgan, CEO of Yass Valley Aged Care’s Horton House, said they chose to put Horton House into lockdown due to the increased number of residents having cold and flu symptoms.

“The number of residents and their symptoms did not strictly meet the criteria for this course of action, but management preferred to act quickly...as it was evident it was increasing in the community,” Ms Morgan said.

While the influenza virus has been prominent elsewhere in NSW, the incidence in Yass Valley has been lower.

Dr Ray Burn, Old Linton Medical Practice

On August 1, NSW Health renewed calls for the elderly and those in high-risk groups to take advantage of free flu vaccinations after a spike in outbreaks from aged-care facilities.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said family and friends of the elderly are risking the life of a loved one if they visit them with flu symptoms.

“We are seeing high levels of both influenza A and B strains circulating in the community and older people are more susceptible to severe infection from the influenza A strain that is circulating.”

In the week ending July 30, there were 4690 notifications and confirmation of influenza across NSW local health districts. This was notably higher than the previous week (3282). In the same two weeks (July 17–31) in 2016, those figures were only 1205 and 915, respectively.