Flu numbers surge – have you become complacent?

Too many Australians – particularly younger Australians – are suffering from ‘flu complacency’, according to new research.

A report conducted by market research firm YouGov indicates that despite the significantly higher cases already reported this year compared to last year, many Australians are complacent about the potential seriousness of influenza.

Flu numbers have spiked, with 15,000 cases reported by the Department of Health so far this year. Last year it took until early May for reported case numbers to reach that level.

If the attitude of many Australians towards flu has softened over the past three years, it would be understandable given the events of the period. Whereas once we may have said, ‘I don’t think it’s the flu, probably just a cold’, many of us are now more likely to say something like, ‘The COVID test was negative, so it’s probably just the flu.’

The problem with such an attitude is that, while a ‘standard’ flu might come with a smaller chance of the adverse effects of COVID, many cases still result in serious illness and even death.

Data published in the new YouGov report, which was commissioned by Australian vaccine company CSL Seqiris, shows that young adults in particular have a blasé attitude towards the disease. The report, titled Australian Attitudes to Influenza Index, reveals that only 20 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds understand that the flu is very serious and that people can die from the disease.

For those aged 65 or older, the figure rises to 60 per cent. While that percentage might provide us with a level of assurance that older does indeed mean wiser, it nevertheless means that 40 per cent of Australians in that age group do not understand the potential seriousness of influenza.

Paediatrician and infectious disease expert Professor Robert Booy says the level of flu complacency revealed by the survey is concerning, especially now that flu circulation is returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Prof. Booy says the current increase in influenza transmission coupled with people’s underestimation of the disease’s potential severity could place a significant burden on a public health system already under pressure due to the pandemic.

Agreeing with the anecdotal evidence that Australians have relaxed their attitude towards influenza since the pandemic began, Prof. Booy said: “People need to remember that we’ve had some bad flu seasons in Australia.”

He cited modelling data from 2010-2019 that shows Australia averaged nearly 2800 annual deaths related to flu, with spikes in 2017 (6400 estimated deaths) and 2019 (more than 5200).

And it’s not just older Australians who are at risk, he says. “Last year, we also saw younger populations make up a higher proportion of notifications compared to previous years, so it’s important we have high vaccination rates across all age groups.”

Last month, the Department of Health issued the following advice: “In 2023, seasonal influenza activity is expected to continue, and we encourage you to emphasise the importance of influenza vaccination.”

“Annual influenza vaccination should occur from April onwards to provide protection for the peak of the influenza season, which is generally June to September in most parts of Australia.”

April is here, so now is the perfect time to shed your flu complacency and get your seasonal flu shot. It will increase your chances of beating the rush – and beating the flu.

Have you relaxed your attitude to the flu in the past few years? Do you get an annual jab? Have you had a fifth COVID shot? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Are flu cases already 100 times higher than last year?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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