By CAITLIN CROWLEY

THE DARLING Downs has already had almost three times as many flu cases this year than in the previous two years combined, and health authorities warning the worst is yet to come.

525 flu infections had been confirmed in the Darling Downs health district by May 30, roughly double how many there were at the same time in 2017, which was Australia’s worst flu season on record.

“We are cautiously monitoring the rise in flu cases and have plans in place to manage the expected increase as we head into the cooler months,” Dr Liam Flynn (pictured) from the Darling Downs Public Health Unit said.

Flu cases plummeted during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak, with lockdowns and hygiene measures helping keep flu infections to 154 confirmed cases in 2020 and just 29 on the Downs last year.

“We would expect cases to peak in August during a normal flu season, however statewide flu notifications have been doubling each week and continue to rise sharply with 4,230 new cases in the past week,” Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said.

“The current data trend indicates we may surpass the peaks experienced in 2017 and 2019 flu seasons, but also that we may reach these numbers much earlier in this season.”

The sharp rise in flu cases so far this year. IMAGE: Australian Influenza Surveillance Report

Zeb Sugden from the Queensland Teachers’ Union (QTU) said he wasn’t surprised to hear local flu cases had spiked.

“It’s a significant concern for our members,” Sugden said.

The Southern Queensland QTU organiser said the region’s teacher shortage was already significant and was being made worse by staff absenteeism due to illness.

“There are schools with more than three or four away, that’s probably an average,” Sugden said.

“Harristown State High school – they’ve had in double digit figures where teachers are away. 

“We’ve got situations where principals are taking classes, deputies are taking classes.”

Education Minister Grace Grace said following the department’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state schools are especially agile in responding to rapidly changing situations such as potential influenza outbreaks.

“Schools will make local decisions to accommodate any staff absences. The Department has access to approximately 5,000 relief teachers who may be called upon to work in schools if required,” Grace said.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said she can’t emphasise enough, the importance of receiving an influenza vaccination this year.

“If you have never gotten your influenza vaccination or took a break from getting the influenza vaccination during the pandemic, now is the time to make the change and help contain the spread of the virus and possibly save the lives of Queenslanders,” D’Ath said.

From now until 30 June, you can book an appointment with your GP or pharmacist to receive the flu vaccination for free.

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