Major health warning for parents

NSW Health urges people to vaccinate against the flu this year. Picture: NewsWire / John Appleyard

This flu season is shaping up to be “as severe a season as ever” as health officials worry school holidays will be the tipping point for millions of Aussies.

New data has found 17,431 people in NSW were infected with influenza in the week ending July 6, compared with 16,777 in the week ending June 29.

NSW Health executive director of health protection Jeremy McAnulty said influenza activity was at high levels across the community but especially among children under 16 years.

“We’re really urging those people to get vaccinated,” he said.

NSW Health urges people to vaccinate against the flu this year. Picture: NewsWire / John Appleyard

“In previous years, we’ve seen small children die of influenza and often end up in the ICU, and people with underlying medical conditions end up in hospital and end up dying too.

“It is a very serious disease for those people.

“And people kind of think it’s inevitable. You know, you always grew up hearing about the flu and hearing ‘Oh, he’s going to get the flu this year’.

“But in fact, we know the vaccine is a very effective way of preventing it, but just not enough people are getting it.”

Dr McAnulty said fewer than 60 per cent of people aged over 65 – one of the big risk groups for the flu – had had their flu shot so far.

“Those are among the most vulnerable people for getting the flu, for dying and ending up in hospital,” Dr McAnulty said.

Fewer than 60 per cent of people aged over 65 have had their flu jab so far this year. Picture: NewsWire / John Appleyard

He urged people to get the flu vaccine this year even if they’ve had the flu or vaccinations in previous years, as vaccines are tailored to different strains of the virus each year.

“There’s so many weeks ahead of the flu season, get vaccinated please – to protect yourself, but also the people around you,” Dr McAnulty said.

Parents are encouraged to make sure their kids are vaccinated during the school holidays, with the flu vaccine readily available and free for children aged six months to under five years.

“It takes 10 to 14 days for immunity to kick in after receiving the flu vaccination, so now is the time to get vaccinated to ensure you and your family are protected when school returns,” Dr McAnulty said.

Director of Health Protection at NSW Health Jeremy McAnulty urges people to get vaccinated as flu season reaches its peak. Picture: NewsWire / Simon Bullard.

“Viruses including influenza, Covid-19 and RSV are continuing to circulate during the school holidays.

“People with one of these illnesses or who have cold or flu-like symptoms should stay at home and wear a mask if they do need to go out.

“This is a timely reminder for parents to ensure their young children are vaccinated.”

NSW Health is strongly urging families to stay up to date with their vaccinations during the school holidays to prevent serious respiratory illness.

Ways to protect yourself during flu season:

  • stay up to date with your recommended influenza and Covid-19 vaccinations

  • stay home if you are sick and wear a mask if you need to leave home

  • get together outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces with open doors and windows

  • avoid crowded spaces

  • consider doing a rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting people at higher risk of severe illness

  • talk with your doctor now if you are at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19 or influenza to make a plan about what to do if you get sick, including what test to take, and discussing if you are eligible for antiviral medicine

  • don’t visit people who are at higher risk of severe illness if you are sick or have tested positive to Covid-19 or influenza

  • practice good hand hygiene, including handwashing.

NSW Health warns residents there is likely to be continued influenza activity for the next few weeks.

Pertussis and pneumonia also continues to be unseasonably high in school aged children, according to the health authorities.