Flu poses huge risks this winter

IINFLUENZA (flu) is not your common cold, it is a highly contagious viral infection that can spread rapidly from person to person through coughing, sneezing and close contact.

It's why doctors and government health officials urge annual vaccination in the autumn months ahead of the main danger through the winter months.

Nambour GP Dr Wayne Herdy says there have already been 2800 confirmed cases in Australia this year with anything up to 10 times that number not yet diagnosed.

"We are seeing more cases early than we normally see,'' Dr Herdy said.

"I would have thought given the longer summer and warmer autumn it would not show until people came closer together in colder weather."

The increase in international travel may be a factor, he said, with northern hemisphere strains travelling to the southern hemisphere via overseas tourists or returning holiday makers.

"The risks in vaccination are very small and the likelihood or significant reaction tiny,'' Dr Herdy said.

"But the potential for deaths from the flu could run to the tens and hundreds of thousands depending on the strain.

"The risk to the vulnerable population is really quite high.

"A cough or a cold is not the flu. Influenza is a serious disease which has a significantly high mortality rate."

Dr Herdy said it made sense to stay away from people with respiratory disease and to wash hands constantly. Places of risk included shopping centres and handrails of escalators which were prime sharers of disease.

The Department of Health said the flu virus infected the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs.

Unlike a cold, symptoms such as fever, sore throat and muscle aches develop suddenly with flu and last about a week.

Dr Herdy said people could find themselves hospitalised very quickly if they contracted the disease.

A new four-strain flu vaccine which affords defence against the Brisbane virus has been made free to at-risk Australians from this month.

Doctors' surgeries now have the Quadravalent four-strain vaccine but only for supply to people living in nursing homes.

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