FLU season has struck the New England with a vengeance, with this winter recording the region’s highest number of confirmed cases to date.
Of the 76 influenza cases, 67 of those have been in the past three weeks.
Hunter New England Health public health physician David Durrheim said the figures reflected only those hospitalised with influenza, so the flu would be much more widespread in the community.
“The confirmed cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr Durrheim said.
“Influenza has definitely arrived in Northern NSW.”
Local pharmacists have seen purchases of cold and flu tablets skyrocket in the past two weeks.
Family Pharmacy Southgate chemist Will Campbell said he had seen a “huge increase” in the number of people presenting with flu and gastro-intestinal viruses.
From his observations, more people appeared to be suffering “a genuine flu” and were ill for seven to 10 days.
He explained that in previous years, roughly 80 per cent of people presenting with flu symptoms seemed to have the common cold, but this year a greater proportion have influenza.
“It’s been a very late cold and flu season this year. It’s not usually this late – it’s probably because we’ve had a relatively mild winter, a late change in the weather, and that has caught people off guard.”
Local schools reported the number of absentees due to illness were not dramatically different to previous years, but Westdale Primary School principal Ben van Aanholt confirmed the last two weeks had seen more children staying home than earlier this year.
Carinya Christian School registrar Katrina Telfer said the flu did seem to be more severe this year, with students missing more than one or two days of school.
Across the wider Hunter New England Health district, there were 978 confirmed influenza cases this year – a sharp increase compared to the previous three years, with 116 cases last year, 661 in 2012 and 713 in 2011.
Dr Durrheim said it was too late to get any real benefit from the vaccine this season, so it was crucial people suffering symptoms like high fever, cough and muscle ache didn’t spread the virus in schools, hospitals, or aged- care facilities.