UV light ‘germ detectors’ could be set up at Illawarra shopping centres and transport hubs as part of a $1.75 million campaign to tackle the 2018 flu season.
The detectors, which would allow people to test their hand cleanliness, is one of a host of measures announced by the NSW Government on Tuesday in a bid to ‘beat the bug’ after last year’s horror flu season.
In 2017, there were more than 103,500 confirmed flu cases across the state, nearly three times higher than the previous year.
It was the worst year on record for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) too with 4897 confirmed cases – 2374 in August alone. That compares to 1253 cases for the whole of 2016.
Flu cases have been rising for years – NSW Health figures show there were 899 cases in the Illawarra Shoalhaven in 2015; 599 in 2014; 299 in 2013; 258 in 2012; 132 in 2011 and just 93 in 2010.
There’s already been 80 confirmed cases in the district this year, and ISLHD management is working alongside NSW Health on preventative measures for the upcoming flu season.
“The local health district is focusing on the immunisation program for high risk members of the community, providing free flu vaccinations for frontline health staff and promoting good hygiene practices that help fight the spread of flu,” Public Health Director Curtis Gregory said.
“The district will be implementing its winter plans for our hospitals, which include procedures for allocating additional resources during periods of high demand.”
Mr Gregory said increased laboratory testing and better awareness among clinicians and the community regarding identification of flu had contributed to the higher number of notifications recorded over recent years.
“Last year, the NSW Government introduced the largest rapid influenza testing program in the southern hemisphere which slashed the diagnosis of flu from four days to just a few hours,” he said.
“The program enabled hospital clinicians to make faster triage and treatment decisions which is crucial given antivirals are most effective when started less than two days from onset of influenza.”
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the Don’t Spread Flu – It’s In Your Hands campaign focused on four simple measures: “Get your flu shot early, cough into your elbow not your hands, wash your hands regularly and stay at home if you are sick”.
NSW Health’s Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said frequent hand washing was one of the first lines of defence against another flu epidemic, along with early vaccination.
“The World Health Organisation advises this year’s flu vaccine will be a better match to the four circulating strains and offer higher protection than last year,” she said.
“We urge people to get their flu jab when the vaccine is available in April to ensure they are protected ahead of time, as the vaccine takes two weeks to be fully effective.”
Flu shots are free for pregnant women, children up to six and those over 65, Aboriginal people and those with medical conditions.
However NSW Labor’s Health spokesman Walt Secord said the government should adopt a “North American-style” approach to infection control.
That would include free and subsidised vaccinations for more people; stepped-up hygiene practices in all public venues; and examination of a “universal flu vaccine” covering multiple strains.
“Last year, the Turnbull and Berejiklian governments were caught completely unprepared for the massive patient influx due to the worst flu season on record,” he said.