HEALTH authorities have warned preventable influenza cases could swamp emergency departments after more than 300 lab-confirmed cases across Central Queensland so far this year.
Queensland Health figures reveal 336 people with confirmed influenza cases have attended hospitals across Central Queensland, and doctors are warning the flu season is yet to peak.
The Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service covers the Gladstone, Rockhampton, Emerald and Theodore regions. Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick said there had been a "steep increase" in influenza admissions across the state in the past week and more people were visiting emergency rooms than last winter.
"As of last week there had been 10,831 flu notifications and the past week has seen a steep increase. As of today, we've had 14,455 laboratory-confirmed cases across the state since January - an increase of 3624," Mr Dick said.
"Emergency departments are under a lot of pressure statewide, not just from people suffering from the flu. Last month our emergency departments dealt with an additional 8399 presentations - a 5.9% increase in activity on this time last year."
Gladstone Chemist Warehouse pharmacist Jody Bobbert said staff had seen an influx of people diagnosed with the flu coming into the pharmacy.
"Starting from late last week there's been more people come in than I've seen all year," she said.
Ms Bobbert said the flu season typically started in March and only came to an end in September or October.
"When you have a lot of people coming into one place, like the Gladstone Show this weekend, it's easier to transmit influenza because there's so many people with lots of germs from out and about coming together."
Ms Bobbert, originally from Brisbane, said she saw the same pattern when the major city's Ekka rolled out.
The pharmacist said people had come into the chemist with either a prescription from a doctor who had diagnosed them with the flu, or simply to purchase over-the-counter medication.
"There's a lot of people with the flu but a large number are also generally just unwell with cold symptoms," Ms Bobbert said.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Bill Boyd said it was not too late to get the flu shot.
"The vaccine takes two to three weeks to reach maximum effectiveness and the season has yet to reach its peak - so get a flu jab if you haven't already," he said.
"Most people will recover from flu after a few days, but vulnerable patients can become seriously ill and require hospitalisation."
Dr Boyd said getting the flu shot could keep you out of busy emergency departments.
"EDs are busy at the best of times and right now hospital doctors and their health service colleagues are fully stretched," he said.
"If you have a medical problem your first course of action should always be to consult your family doctor. Emergency departments are for emergencies only."