FLU VACCINE SAVES LIVES
IMPROVED availability of the flu vaccine this year may have saved Tasmania from the horror outbreak that claimed 47 lives in the state last year, a health expert says.
Tasmania has had a relatively mild flu season this year, in keeping with a national 2018 trend of lower flu rates and deaths due to influenza.
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia national president Shane Jackson, who is a Tasmanian pharmacist, said it was clear greater vaccine rates had helped.
“There is no doubt that more people are getting vaccinated and this has made a fundamental difference in Tasmania and Australia,” Dr Jackson said.
The turnaround follows a record flu season last year, with new Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing 47 Tasmanians died from the flu in 2017 — a 370 per cent increase on the 10 deaths in 2016.
Of the 2017 deaths, at least 21 were people in nursing homes. Tasmania’s jump in flu rate was the highest in the country last year, although the nation also had a spike in flu cases of 170 per cent.
Tasmania also had the highest rate of deaths at 5.7 per every 100,000 people, compared with the national rate of 3.9. The ABS data shows many of those who died from the flu had other associated causes, most commonly dementia (in 25 per cent of cases) and respiratory diseases (20 per cent).
Cancer, which weakens the immune system, was present in almost 10 per cent of flu deaths.
This year has seen a marked change, with the most recent Tasmanian flu surveillance report showing only 220 cases of the flu had been reported for the year up until mid September.
This is less than half the number of last year, when about 460 Tasmanians had been confirmed as having the flu over the same period.