Expert warns against flu alarm in wake of fatalities
THE death toll from the flu in Townsville is just the "tip of the iceberg" as a public health expert cautions against alarm due to "misconceptions" surrounding the virus.
Seven people have died in the Townsville region directly from the flu this year.
In July alone there were 1794 confirmed cases of flu so far, which is 4.5 times the average. But Townsville Hospital Public Health Unit director Dr Steven Donohue said it was erroneous to compare flu statistics this way.
"We are now testing more people than ever before, so naturally there's going to be an increase even if it wasn't a big season," he said.
"For example, Townsville has three or four times as many notified cases as usual, but only double the hospitalisations.
"And we know that the tested and confirmed cases of the flu is just the tip of the iceberg; most people just stay home and put up with it, and are not necessarily going to the doctor."
Dr Donohue said the flu season was certainly worse than in 2018 but the flu strains currently circulating were not thought to be more virulent or deadlier than usual.
He said the seven reported direct deaths in Townsville due to the flu were "completely not unexpected" and that the "reality is worse".
"As is the case every year, once again, most of our cases of flu are not well documented," Dr Donohue said.
"Most of the deaths are indirect; that is, people with other diseases who the flu comes along and makes them worse and hastens their death, particularly in elderly and sick people."
It is estimated between 3000 and 4000 Australians die from the flu each year.
Dr Donohue said unlike places like Melbourne and Sydney, which experienced real winters, tropical places like North Queensland did not have a single "flu season" but rather waves of infection.
Therefore, people should be getting immunised year round.
Dr Donohue echoed the comments of Queensland Health immunisation program medical director Jonathan Malo, who implored parents to get their "super spreader" children under five to get the flu shot.
"If they develop flu they tend to pass it on a lot more than other people, so kids greatly contribute to the spread of flu in the community," Dr Malo said.
Vaccinations for children aged from six months to under five years are free, and are paid for by the Queensland Government.
Dr Donohue said in places like Townsville it was almost better to promote getting the flu shot year-round rather than right before the traditional "flu season".
"What I tell the doctors is … a little early is better than not at all," he said.