Date: 11 May 2019
Source: Cosmos [edited]

With 40,000 confirmed influenza cases in Australia this early in the season [2018-19], experts this week warned that deaths in the country could hit 4000 unless infection rates slow before the winter peak, and urged the public to get a flu vaccination.  The number of confirmed cases is triple the typical levels seen at this part of the flu season. In 2018, there were 58 000 recorded cases for the entire year.

Robert Booy, who heads a collective of health organisations called the Immunisation Coalition, says that this flu season has been "really strange."  2019 may be shaping up to be a particularly bad year for Australia because immunity levels are low following a mild season in 2018, Booy suggests. He adds that the presence of 2 types of flu this year [2019], rather than the usual one, is also likely to be a contributing factor.  "There has been a sustained and rising summer and autumn surge that began at the end of last year [2018] and is continuing to increase," he warns.

Members of the community at the greatest risk of dying from flu complications include the young, the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and people with severe asthma or heart diseases, experts say. But healthy people should also get the jab, even if they don't fall into one of these categories, because they're likely to come into contact with people who are vulnerable.

High rates of vaccination are required to protect the community overall, with the hope of achieving "herd immunity," says Booy.  The University of Queensland's Kirsty Short warns that people who are obese or have diabetes are also more susceptible to severe flu and are "significantly more likely to be hospitalised with the flu, significantly more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and significantly more likely to die from the virus."

Booy recommends getting vaccinated soon for the best chance of avoiding flu altogether.  "If you get vaccinated in the month of May [2019], you can deal with the flu that's already around, [and] it will protect you for about 4 months to cover the winter flu season," he explains.

Mums-to-be should also get the jab, according to the University of Melbourne's Elizabeth McCarthy, who said it's a safer strategy for women and their unborn children than avoiding it.  William Rawlinson from the University of New South Wales in Sydney offers some tips for avoiding infection.  "Don't forget simple measures, like washing your hands, coughing into your elbow and using tissues; and there are anti-virals which are available," he says. "Finally, it's important to know what you're dealing with. If you think you have the flu, talk to your GP about diagnosis."  [Byline: Joseph Milton]
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2019 06:22:23 +0200

Melbourne, April 22, 2019 (AFP) - A father and son lifesaving team drowned while trying to save a tourist swept out to sea near one of Australia's most famous sights off the south coast, officials said Monday.   Ross Powell, 71, and his son Andrew, 32, died on Sunday after their lifesaving boat overturned in the surf during the rescue of a 30-year-old man near the Twelve Apostles, a set of 12 limestone stacks off the Victoria state coast.

The tourist, whose nationality or name has not been released, had been wading at the mouth of a river when he got into trouble.   He was winched from the water alongside a third lifesaver from the boat, who was seriously injured, by a rescue helicopter and taken to hospital, Victoria Police said. The bodies of the Campbells were found in the water shortly after.   The tragedy has rocked the small tourist town of Port Campbell where the two men came from, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison leading the tributes.   "Surf lifesavers are selfless & brave. We thank them all for their service & extend our deepest sympathies to Ross & Andrew's family & friends," Morrison tweeted Monday.

Surf Lifesaving Victoria president Paul James hailed the pair as heroes, and said the conditions had been rough and "not the place to be swimming".   "It's just terrible, it's heart-breaking," he told reporters in an emotional press conference of the death of the dairy farmers and experienced volunteer lifesavers.   "I understand the boat was operating in a two-metre (6.5 feet) swell, so a very high swell, and we know that it is very treacherous down there... These brave people, these heroes, have gone out to try and help."   Amber Griffiths, the partner of Andrew Campbell and who local media reported was pregnant with their second child, wrote about her heartbreak on Facebook.   "Today we lost two of the most beautiful people to ever exist -- always putting others first," she wrote.   "The love of my life, light of my life, father of my baby girl. My heart is broken. I miss you Andrew Powell."

Australia's beaches are among the island continent's biggest tourist drawcards, but can have strong rips and tides. Swimmers are advised to keep between areas bounded by flags and patrolled by lifesavers.   The area where the tourist was rescued is near high cliffs and said to have wild and treacherous seas.   The Twelve Apostles are giant rock stacks of varying heights in the Southern Ocean which began forming 20 million years ago when erosion gradually began whittling away the limestone cliffs of Port Campbell.
Date: Wed 17 Apr 2019
Source: [abridged, edited]

We're a little over 3 months into 2019, and we've clocked over a new milestone already, with the number of measles cases globally having increased by a staggering 300%. The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that more than 100,000 cases [112,000 cases] have been reported worldwide in 2019 in the 1st 3 months of the year [2019]. In the whole of 2018, only 28,000 cases were logged.

In Australia, we've had 92 cases confirmed in 2019, again, close to the number of cases for the whole of last year [2018].  I must admit, I thought that the big problem here was parents who aren't vaccinating their kids. But, there's another surprising factor at play here.

Yes, these massive figures are partially driven by parents deciding not to vaccinate their kids. And, yes, the reality is that if people don't get their act together and seriously consider the implications of not immunising themselves and their children, we could face a situation where measles quite literally catch on.

However, experts suggest there is another factor driving this rapid increase in measles cases, and it's travelling.

In 2012, a 25-year-old man returned to Australia from Thailand, carrying the virus. This one case led to 167 Australian cases during the 8 months that followed, largely in southwest Sydney.

What a legacy for this poor bloke! His one infection resulted in more than 160 others getting sick. It's clear from this type of story that measles is highly infectious, and we're not talking about an illness that gives you a bit of a rash and a headache, and then you recover.

Associate Professor Anita Heywood from the University of New South Wales, who evaluates immunisation programs and immunisation gaps, says the vaccination movement is having an impact on infection rates in the US, which is important, because this is a global problem.

"Australians travel a lot, and no matter how well we control measles in Australia, if the world isn't controlling it as well, we will always have people coming back with it," she adds.
Date: Thu 11 Apr 2019
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald [edited]

Scientists hope the 2019 flu vaccines will slow the record high numbers of flu outbreaks, which have already killed at least 7 people in New South Wales (NSW) this year [2019]. Australia so far has a record 27,540 lab-confirmed flu cases in 2019, as travellers returning from the northern hemisphere brought the flu home with them. While only 11 days in, this is already the worst April on record, with 3092 confirmed cases, the national surveillance system shows.

"This is a very interesting year," says Kim Sampson, chief executive of the Immunisation Coalition. Australia has never seen such record high flu rates during the warmer months, ahead of the full-blown winter flu season, he said. In NSW, a record 8035 flu cases have been laboratory-confirmed. The true flu rate is likely far higher.

The number of NSW cases for the first 3 months of 2019 is more than double that for the same period in 2017 and 2018. The March [2019] flu count alone is 3.5 times that of March 2017 and 2018. Northern Sydney Local Health District recorded the highest number of confirmed flu cases in March [2019] of 108. Between January and March [2019], there were 27 confirmed flu outbreaks across NSW, including 17 at aged care facilities, killing 7 people and affecting 174 residents.

The high rate of confirmed summer flu is partly due to new highly sensitive rapid flu tests. But the frequency of aged care outbreaks and a rise in the number of people presenting to emergency departments with flulike illnesses has left little doubt that there has been more flu this summer than in previous years.

Most Australians get their vaccine in mid-April, before the typical June to September flu season, leaving the population unprotected in summer, particularly for 2 influenza A strains. A mild season in 2018 meant the community's natural immunity is likely to be lower than average.

People over 65 years of age are at particular risk from the flu. Their weaker immune systems can struggle to fight off the disease and don't react strongly to the standard flu vaccine -- leaving them unprotected.

But summer flu rates are not an accurate predictor of the winter flu season. "I don't think we can draw any conclusion about how severe the winter flu season will be or when it will start from this relatively new summer flu phenomenon," NSW Health's Communicable Diseases Director Dr. Vicky Sheppeard said.

The seasonal flu vaccines should offer good protection against the circulating H1N1 influenza A strain, Dr. Sheppeard said. But if the H3N2 strain becomes predominant, the vaccines will be less effective and older people will be more vulnerable. She urged parents of small children and other high-risk groups to book a flu vaccination from 1 May [2019].

More than 250 000 flu vaccines have been delivered so far, including over 42 000 to aged care facilities across the state. Most GP clinics will have their Commonwealth-funded free flu vaccines by next month, Dr. Sheppeard said.

Free flu vaccines are available for pregnant women, aboriginal people, those over 65, and anyone with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Flu vaccines will also be free for children under 5 (from 6 months old) under the NSW government's AUD 2.6 million (USD 1.9 million) program.

Based on the size of the vaccine orders, the health ministry is hopeful more children would be vaccinated against flu in 2019 than in previous years. People who are not eligible for free vaccines can get vaccines on the private market from their GP or an eligible pharmacist.

More than 650 people died from influenza-related illness in NSW in 2017. "Thanks to many factors, including the vigilance of the community last year [2018], we avoided repeating the deadly flu season of 2017. We must not be complacent this year," Dr. Sheppeard said.  [Byline: Kate Aubusson and Liam Mannix]
[The unusually high influenza activity in the interseasonal period in Australia is certainly a concern about the predicted impact during the winter months later on in the year. Vaccination of the high-risk groups is a priority, as soon as the vaccine becomes available, and would potentially help reduce associated morbidity and mortality. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Maharashtra State, India: <>
New South Wales, Australia: <>]
Date: Mon, 8 Apr 2019 03:50:11 +0200

Sydney, April 8, 2019 (AFP) - Australia on Monday launched a major education campaign to encourage its residents, particularly those travelling overseas, to get vaccinated against measles as a sudden spike in cases amid a global resurgence causes alarm.   Measles -- an airborne infection causing fever, coughing and rashes that can be deadly in rare cases -- was declared officially eliminated from Australia by the World Health Organisation in 2014.   In developed nations including Australia however, the growing anti-vaccine movement has seen a re-emergence of the disease.

The announcement by Health Minister Greg Hunt came as a spate of cases hit Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, with the latest infection alert on Sunday involving two people who holidayed in the Philippines.   Hunt said there were 83 measles cases so far this year, compared to 103 for all of last year and 81 for 2017.   "I am concerned about the recent increases in measles cases in Australia and want to make sure our community is well protected against this very serious disease," Hunt said in a statement.

He warned that due to changing vaccine schedules for Australians born between 1966 and 1994, some people may have received only one dose of vaccine, instead of two, making them more susceptible to infection.   Promotional materials including videos were being developed by the Australian Academy of Science to raise awareness about the need to be fully vaccinated, he added.   Some 93.5 percent of two-year-olds in Australia have received two doses of measles vaccine.
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