AS we come off the back of a fatal summer flu season, influenza vaccines are becoming available to protect against winter variants of the illness.
The Department of Health is already urging vulnerable people to take advantage of the vaccine, offered free to over 65s.
But the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is warning vaccine timing is everything.
The association's president Harry Nespolon encouraged people to speak with their doctor before a flu shot to ensure the timing is effective.
"Urging people to receive their flu vaccination too early in the year may not actually cover them for the flu season, and put them at risk," Dr Nespolon said.
"We do not want to see patients who are doing the right thing in receiving a flu vaccination, getting the wrong advice and getting it too early and seeing the vaccination lose effectiveness by the time we reach the peak of the flu season."
Protection against the flu is highest in the first three to four months after vaccination.
Getting vaccinated in April or May allows protection during the peak flu transmission period around June to September.
Yearly vaccination is recommended as the virus changes each year and vaccine protection diminishes over time.
This year's vaccination includes the A (H1N1) strain, the A (H3N2) strain, the B/Colorado/06/2017 strain and the B/Phuket/3073/2013 strain.
Last year, over 65 year olds accounted for 75 per cent of influenza-associated deaths. To maximise their protection, the enhanced Fluad (Seqirus) vaccine is being offered to them.
Flu tracker launched
This year's FluTracking program has been launched early in response to a rise in cases over late summer and autumn.
System co-ordinator Craig Dalton said flu activity this year already exceeded that of winter last year.
"Influenza-like illness in March this year was much higher than normal - it was higher than the peak activity in winter 2018," Dr Dalton said.
"Laboratory reports suggest influenza rates between January and April this year are two to three times higher than previous years."
"While it's impossible to identify the exact cause of spiked flu activity in autumn, one possible factor could be high rates of influenza in travellers returning from the northern hemisphere," Dr Dalton said.
A joint-initiative of the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the Hunter Medical Research Institute, FluTracking is designed to rapidly determine the onset of severity of influence in Australia and New Zealand.
The system relies on data from members of the public to paint a valuable picture of flu outbreaks for health professionals and the community.
"People can sign up to receive a weekly email survey that takes just 10 seconds to complete. The survey simply asks whether a respondent has had a cough or fever in the past week and whether they have had the annual flu vaccine," Dr Dalton said.
Details - www.flutracking.net
Stop the spread
According to Health Direct, there are a few ways we can help stop the spread of flu, apart from the vaccine.
- washing your hands regularly and properly with soap and water, particularly after touching your nose or mouth, and before handling food
- sneezing and coughing into tissues then throwing them away immediately and washing your hands
- cleaning surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly to get rid of germs
- not sharing cups, plates and cutlery
- where you can, avoid sharing towels with other people and throw disposable tissues and paper towels in the bin immediately after using them.
Antiviral medicines can also be given but are only recommended in the 48 hours after you've been exposed to the virus.