“Every flu season is different. In 2018 we saw one of the quietest flu seasons on record, whereas in 2017 we saw a record season with quite high numbers,” Dr Malo said.
“We did see a very high demand for flu vaccine last year before the flu season which is great to see, but we do know that after a few months that vaccine does wear off a bit.”
He did not speculate what could be causing the spike in numbers, but the Royal Australian College of GPs said the spike could be in part attributed to higher than usual numbers of travellers returning from the northern hemisphere, which has seen a record cold winter in many regions.
Dr Malo said while flu cases were usually highest in Australia at the peak of the flu season between May and October the spike in summer cases showed there was always the potential to pick up a bug.
“Around this time of year is when the vaccine from last year tends to expire, so generally there isn’t a lot of vaccine available,” he said.
“We time it every year so people have the extra protection during the peak season.”
More than 1.2 million government-funded flu vaccines were distributed across the state last year amid very high demand, and Dr Malo said they were hopeful there would be similar demand this year.
In the interim, between the end of last year’s vaccine wearing off and running out and the new vaccine becoming available in April, people are being urged to take simple precautions like maintaining good hygiene and staying home if you are sick.
Pregnant women can access a free vaccine from their GPs year-round, which is strongly recommended as any sickness during pregnancy can have an effect on the baby.
Many workplaces also organise flu-jab days in an effort to reduce the amount of sick leave taken by employees who follow best practise and stay home once they’re feeling flu symptoms.
Queensland’s influenza rate in January was the second-highest in the nation, with just the Northern Territory having more cases per 100,000 people, recording 50 to Queensland’s 41.
NSW was third with a rate of 25 cases per 100,000 people in January 2019.
Across 2018 there was 15,685 recorded cases of influenza in Queensland, compared to 2017’s horror run of 56,590 cases.
However the last two months of 2018 saw a spike in cases, with 1361 confirmed cases in November compared to the previous five-year average of 645, and December seeing 2028 confirmed cases, compared to the five-year average of 534.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.