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Brace for ‘worst’ flu season

Health authorities are warning that this winter could be one of the worst flu seasons in recent years with more than 2000 cases of seasonal influenza and swine flu already diagnosed in Victoria.

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The Department of Human services (DHS) released figures on Friday showing 2,344 Victorians had been diagnosed with influenza to June 15 this year, including 1,230 confirmed cases of swine flu.

This is a huge increase compared to 81 confirmed cases at the same time last year, and just 52 at the same time in 2007.

Acting chief health officer Rosemary Lester says the flu season began earlier this year and the number of laboratory confirmed cases has risen quickly.

“The information we have currently points to the potential for this winter to be one of the biggest we’ve had in recent years for flu activity, so it is important that all Victorians remain vigilant and protect themselves,” she says in a statement.

“The notifications and surveillance data mean that Victoria’s influenza-like illness activity is now in the higher than expected range and will continue at this level for some time to come, perhaps the rest of the winter flu season.”

Small portion is swine flu

Dr Lester says although a significant amount of influenza is currently circulating in the community, only a small portion is swine flu.

She says the high number of positive tests for seasonal and swine flu reflects the increased amount of testing being carried out.

Dr Lester says the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory had allowed the state to complete a high number of tests for suspected swine flu cases for a longer period than many other countries, including the United States.

“In some ways Victoria has been a victim of its own testing success,” she says.

“We have a very thorough testing system for all infectious diseases and are at the forefront of detecting swine flu in the community.”

A DHS spokesman says there were a total of 1,298 confirmed influenza cases in 2008 and 1,591 in 2007.

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