Aahh Choo! Asthma and Flu.
Many of us dread the coming of winter with the chilly evenings and inevitable bouts of colds and flu. While unpleasant for most of us, influenza can be very serious for people with asthma and contributes to an increase in the number of asthma related hospitalisations in winter.
Influenza and the community
Influenza, or the flu, is a highly contagious viral infection that is responsible for major outbreaks of respiratory illness. In 2016, more than 90,000 Australians suffered from influenza1. Influenza has a significant impact on the community, each year flu contributes to an estimated 13,500 hospitalisations and more than 3,000 deaths in Australians aged over 50 years2.
Influenza and asthma
People with asthma are at higher risk of experiencing severe complications following the influenza virus. Such complications include:
More severe asthma flare-ups
Pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections
Days lost from work and school
Hospitalisation and death
In 2016, children aged 0-5 had the 2nd highest flu rate, second to those over 753. Each year 20-50% of children catch flu, compared with 10-30% of adults4, placing children with asthma at higher risk of severe symptoms due to flu. The flu vaccine is recommended from 6 months of age.
Our flu and you survey
In March we surveyed more than 500 people with asthma and their carers to better understand their personal experiences with asthma and how it affects them during the flu season.
Here’s a snap shot of what we learnt
Asthma and the flu vaccination
Annual vaccination is the single most effective way to protect against influenza infection. As Australia’s peak asthma body, we strongly advise that all people with asthma and their families are vaccinated for maximum protection against influenza. This will protect them and prevent the spread of the virus to those most at risk.
Vaccination in mid-April is recommended to offer maximum protection throughout the flu season. The National Immunisation Program offers the vaccine free to eligible patients but this does not cover all people with asthma.
Role of General Practitioners
General Practitioners have a significant role in the management of asthma in the community. This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of flu vaccination and in particular:
Identify patients with asthma who are at increased risk of influenza complications
Encourage patients with asthma and their families to consider annual influenza vaccination
Provide information on the benefits of vaccination for people with asthma who are at risk of more severe complications
Answer questions and address any concerns regarding influenza vaccination
In 2016, 55% of people who were immunised against flu based this decision on their GP’s recommendation5. This shows the potential of GPs to influence patients who may not otherwise choose vaccination, and help protect people with asthma.
For resources to support your patients contact your Local Asthma Foundation on 1800 ASTHMA Helpline (1800 278 462).
1 Australian Government Department of Health, National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System http://www9.health.gov.au/cda/source/rpt_2.cfm
3 http://www.health.gov.au/flureport#annual Accessed on: 02 March 2017
5 ISG Influenza Consumer Survey 2016, Immunisation Coalition