Young and middle-aged adults are a target in this winter's flu vaccination campaign, with experts warning they are also at risk from the strain expected to hit Australia.
Though young children, elderly people and the chronically ill are considered the most vulnerable, doctors say even fit and healthy adults are at increased risk of complications from H1N1, which was the dominant flu strain in the 2013-14 US flu season and has hit many European countries this year. More than 60 per cent of flu-related hospital admissions in the US were patients aged 18 to 64, and H1N1 was the main strain affecting them.
The Influenza Specialist Group said yesterday it was concerned that more than one in two young and middle-aged adults were not getting vaccinated against the flu this season, even though it was likely to cause more illness in people their age than it had in previous years.
ISG chairman Alan Hampson said a recent survey showed only 18 per cent of Australians aged 35 to 49 understood that vaccination was one of the best ways to protect themselves.
"Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness which can affect anyone, including the fit and healthy," Dr Hampson said. "While it is difficult to know exactly which influenza strain will dominate in Australia this year, frequently the US and European trends are reflected over here in the following influenza season.
"To date, we've already seen 3488 diagnosed cases of influenza in Australia, which is higher than the same time for the last two years, and it's not yet winter."
University of WA flu expert and director of PathWest's national influenza centre David Smith said cases of the flu were still low in WA but starting to pick up.
"What we've seen with the H1 strain in the northern hemisphere and the cases we've had in Australia is that it does focus on a younger age group and is still causing serious illness in that 20 to 60-year-old age group," Professor Smith said.
He recommended people get vaccinated soon because it took two weeks to produce a strong immune effect. "To prevent both the milder and more severe consequences of the flu, vaccination is a pretty modest investment in protecting your health," he said.