AT RISK: Over-65s are among those most at risk of serious illness or side-effects as a result of the flu, and this year has already seen a spike in diagnoses and hospital admissions on the Coast.
AT RISK: Over-65s are among those most at risk of serious illness or side-effects as a result of the flu, and this year has already seen a spike in diagnoses and hospital admissions on the Coast. IMAGE POINT FR/SHUTTERSTOCK

Health warning that elderly are at risk during flu season

THE term 'flu' is used so lightly by people who are really talking about a cold that it's hard to appreciate the real thing can not only land you in hospital but potentially kill you.

Gold Coast Health has warned that for the elderly, very young, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people with chronic medical conditions, it can do just that.

Influenza A and B viruses infect the upper airways and lungs, potentially leading to complications including bronchitis, pneumonia, sepsis, heart or brain inflammation and organ failure, as well as worsening many existing medical conditions.

Sinus and ear infections are more moderate complications.

With one of the worst starts to a flu season on record - almost three times greater than average diagnosis numbers - Gold Coast officials are urging everyone to get their annual flu shots early.

More than 6600 people have been diagnosed with the flu in Queensland since the beginning of the year, with hundreds admitted to hospital and more than 50 to intensive care.

Experts are yet to find a reason for the overall spike, but say each year is different, with 2017 figures also unusually high, with 250,000 cases reported Australia-wide, of which 50,000 were in Queensland and 5000 on the Gold Cost alone.

Most of those hospitalised were very young children and the elderly.

The vaccine is altered each year to target changing virus strains, and this year it is recommended under-65s have a four-strain (quadrivalent) shot and over-65s an enhanced trivalent vaccine.

The latter gives greater protection against influenza A/H3N2, which is more common and severe in the elderly, and health officials believe this compensates for any loss of protection against the B strain, which is not included in the over-65s vaccine.

Over-65s and others most at risk are eligible for a free vaccination, or they are available for about $16 from local medical practices and some pharmacies.

Gold Coast Health is running four free clinics at Robina Library (May 18 and June 22) and Pacific Pines High School Hall (May 25 and June 29).

Info: Go to

beta.health.gov.au/.


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