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Ten dead amid eightfold increase in flu notifications

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Ten people have died from the influenza virus in South Australia so far this year, according to shock new statistics released by SA Health.

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Authorities today released new figures showing that from January 1 to May 4 there were 10,636 notifications of influenza virus infection – compared to just 1316 cases reported for the same period last year.

However, the actual figure is likely to be even higher, with the Notifiable Diseases Summary report noting “that there is currently an administrative backlog for data entry of cases reported to the Communicable Disease Control Branch”.

Of these notifications, 6008 were in females compared to 4628 in males, with 96 per cent of cases citing influenza A.

In 274 of cases, hospital admission
was required, with 10 cases reported to have died from influenza virus infection.

There have been calls for people to seek vaccination with reports of pharmacies struggling to meet demand in SA.

Australia is headed for a bad flu season with a big increase in the number of confirmed cases of influenza nationally in summer and autumn.

There have already been 40,000 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza nationally in 2019, about three times the usual number recorded at this time of year.

Sydney-based senior Medical Virologist Professor William Rawlinson said the number of cases could end up being the highest since 2017, when a quarter of a million laboratory-confirmed cases were recorded.

The laboratory numbers do not reflect the full extent of the flu, as most people do not get tested.

“I would predict a couple of million this year,” he said.

“It’s likely this will be the highest number since 2017 although I’d be very concerned that it may be higher because we haven’t seen so much in 2018.”

Experts expect there will be about 4000 deaths due to complications to do with the flu.

Immunisation Coalition chairman Professor Robert Booy said the actual number of deaths on average each season was about 3000 to 4000.

“I’m not saying we’re getting more deaths this year than any other year,” he said.

“We’ve got a very busy early season but it’s nothing like the peak that we had in 2017.”

Prof Booy said there has been a sustained and rising summer and autumn surge.

“The best explanation is that 2018 was so quiet that we have reduced community immunity, so there are more people who are vulnerable to catching infection and therefore transmitting infection,” he said.

-with AAP

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