Sunday Tasmanian - - Front Page - ANNE MATHER

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.

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