2015 was one of the worst years for influenza in recent history in Australia.

It’s too early to predict how the 2016 flu season will pan out – each year sees different strains of the infection – but one thing is certain, it will be older Australians who will be most at risk.

The flu virus is especially dangerous for elderly people, a fact that is compounded if they have underlying medical conditions, or are susceptible to circulatory or respiratory disorders such as pneumonia.

Up to one in ten adults and three in ten children are infected with influenza each year, however we may never understand the real burden of ‘the dreaded flu’ because very few hospitalisations or deaths are specifically attributed to influenza. 

Immunise Australia, a program run by the Department of Heath estimates that each year, flu contributes to an average of 13,500 hospitalisations and more than 3,000 deaths among Australians aged over 50 years.

The National Centre for Biotechnology Information estimates that influenza causes up to 3,500 overall deaths in Australia annually, so it’s obvious from those two estimations that elderly Australians are extremely vulnerable.

The good news is that under the National Immunisation Program, influenza vaccinations – flu shots– are provided free of charge to Australians over the age of 65. However it should be noted that while the actual vaccinations are free, there may be a consultation fee, so if possible look for a doctor who bulk bills.

And don’t think you’ll be safe because you had the flu shot last year; the vaccine needs to be given each and every year as the types of influenza virus circulating changes.

For example in 2016, for the first time, the flu shot will protect against four strains of flu instead of the usual three.

How well does the flu shot work?

A very good question, with no definitive answer.

According to Life Hacker’s “What you need to know about the 2016 flu vaccine”, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year and can protect well if the circulating strains are similar to the vaccine strains.

As Australia’s flu season follows and usually mirrors that of the northern hemisphere, it should be a good match because in the USA the vaccine effectiveness for their 2015-2016 flu season was about 60%…which means that 3 out of every five people who had ‘the jab’ avoided getting ill.

Suffice to say if you start to feel a fever, headache, sore throat, general malaise or other common flu symptoms coming on, Home Instead strongly recommends you visit your doctor as soon as possible.