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Influenza, or the “flu” is a big problem around the world. In Australia, most disease occurs during late winter, but in the tropics, it can occur at any time. The flu is spread from person to person through the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes and it can cause symptoms such as fever, coughing, soreness in the body or sometimes very serious disease that can lead to death. You are more likely to have serious disease if you are less than five-years of age, elderly or have a chronic illness such as diabetes, renal failure, heart or lung disease or if you are pregnant or smoke.
How much flu we see each year depends on which types of the flu virus are circulating and how susceptible the population is. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a higher risk of getting the flu than non-Indigenous Australians. This may be due to the high proportion of Indigenous Australians with chronic illness, or those living in remote communities may not have seen previous types of the flu that may have offered some protection.
The best way to protect yourself from the flu is by vaccination. Free vaccine is available for Indigenous Australians who are less than five years of age or over 15 years of age. It is also recommended but not yet funded for Indigenous Australians aged 5 to 15 years of age. You need to be vaccinated every year to be protected as the types of the flu virus that is included in the vaccine changes each year and protection provided by the vaccine does not last a long time.
One way to check how much flu there is in the community and to see how well the vaccine is working is to conduct surveillance of flu symptoms. Flutracking is a community based surveillance system, based out of Newcastle. It asks people to participate by signing up, and responding to a weekly email by answering two simple questions; whether or not they had symptoms of the flu in the previous week, and whether they had received the flu vaccine. If participants have had flu symptoms, then a few additional questions will follow about whether they have seen their doctor and if they were tested for the flu.
Currently, over 30,000 Australians participate in Flutracking, making it the biggest community surveillance system in the world. However, not all communities within Australia are well represented, which makes it difficult to assess how much flu there is in certain populations and how well the flu vaccine is protecting people. In 2016, only 300 Indigenous Australians participated in Flutracking. This meant that it was not possible to see how much flu there was and how well the flu vaccine was working in protecting Indigenous Australians. If more Indigenous Australians join, we will be able to understand how serious the flu is each year and how quickly it will spread. We will need many Indigenous Australians to join in order to know how well the flu vaccine is working. We invite all Australians and particularly Indigenous Australians to join Flutracking.
Why should I join and what’s in it for me? You can contribute to one of the largest community-based surveillance systems in the world, and you can help protect our mob from the flu and contribute to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal communities. Some Flutracking participants enjoy being part of the community of Flutrackers and being involved only takes 10 seconds each week. With links available to a map of flu activity, you can see how much flu there is in your area, and have the option to hear messages about protecting yourself and your family and community against the flu. You can change your mind and stop participating at any time. For more information about how we use data, please click here.
Flutracking is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.
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