The flu season is fast approaching and aged care workers and residents are among those recommended to have a vaccination, writes Natalie Soulsby.
Last year’s flu season had far fewer cases than in 2017. There were about 5,800 hospital admissions for influenza between 3 April and 31 October 2018, which was less than half of the five-year average.
The number of deaths reported was also much lower than in 2017, however of the 57 deaths reported, 75 per cent involved people aged 65 or over.
Already this year we are seeing cases of flu being reported in larger numbers than the average for previous years. Queensland saw almost three times their average for summer flu cases in the first two months of this year.
All residents in aged care homes and health care workers are recommended for annual vaccination, with rare exceptions including those with severe allergies to the flu vaccine.
Vaccination is best carried out between March and May each year. Vaccines are now available at pharmacies and the free flu vaccine for at-risk groups is also available now in some states. These vaccines have been distributed earlier than usual due to the increase in number of confirmed cases seen this year.
It is important to get vaccinated before the onset of the peak season for flu, which runs July to September.
Full immunity is reached around 10–14 days after vaccination. Antibodies will peak at around four to six weeks, which is when a vaccinated person is most protected. Antibodies will gradually fall after that but protection remains for around one year.
Vaccination prevents up to 90 per cent of cases of influenza infection in healthy adults.
Common side effects include injection site reactions, such as pain, redness, itching or swelling, small hard lump that may persist few weeks, transient fever, muscle aches or headache, which usually last no more than one to two days.
However, you cannot get the flu from the vaccination. The vaccine contains only inactivated virus particles and is therefore incapable of causing influenza infection. A runny nose or sore throat after vaccination may indicate a viral illness.
This year there is a new A strain and a new strain for the B Victoria linage are included in the vaccines. In Australia in 2019 there are two main types of flu vaccine available including the Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine (QIV) which:
- is suitable for adults up to 64 years of age
- protects against four strains of influenza including two A strains and two B strains and offers broader protection than the old Trivalent vaccine by providing protection against an extra B strain of influenza
- has four different brands available including Afluria Quad (Seqirus), Flu Quadri and Flu Quadri Junior (Sanofi) and Fluarix Tetra (GSK).
The other type of vaccine is the Trivalent Influenza vaccine (TIV) Fluad (Seqirus), which:
- is a high dose vaccine available in Australia to specifically provide increased protection for people aged 65 years and older
- protects against two A strains and one B strain as those over 65 are more susceptible to influenza A strains and the B strain appears to be less implicated.
For those giving or receiving vaccinations it is important to note that test doses are not recommended. Routine use of paracetamol to prevent fever at time of vaccination is also no longer recommended.
Most importantly all vaccine recipients should be observed for at least 15 minutes after vaccination.
Natalie Soulsby is a clinical pharmacist, specialist in geriatric medicine and head of clinical development at Ward Medication Management.
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