The University of Newcastle, Australia

Keeping track of the flu keeps the nation on track

Friday, 13 May 2016

Fever, coughs and fatigue have a major impact on our nation’s health and productivity: last year 20,000 people who participated in an online FluTracking program took a combined total of 33,754 days off work or normal duties due to fever and cough symptoms (that’s a staggering total of 92.4 years!)

Over the past 10 years, an increasing number of Australians have participated in a 10-second online weekly survey to enable researchers understand the complexities of influenza strains and outbreaks in Australia – and the impact on productivity and wellbeing.

Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications, so knowing where outbreaks are focused can limit the spread of this debilitating illness and help healthcare practitioners be better prepared.

Dr Craig Dalton*, FluTracking co-ordinator, said it is impossible to predict how bad a flu season will be – there is no crystal ball.  But real-time figures revealed by the survey give rapid insight into what is happening in the community.

“Our online survey allows health professionals to see where flu is hitting the hardest, and to check its severity,” Dr Dalton said.

“These surveys also help us identify the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine and see the impact of changes in influenza strains.”

FluTracking has grown from 400 participants in the winter of 2006 to over 20,000 people.

The information gathered from over two million surveys compares the rates of flu symptoms in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, with those who haven’t had the flu jab reporting higher rates of symptoms.

The online Flutracking maps pinpoint by postcode outbreaks of cough and fever – with dark red icons indicating high levels of influenza activity.

People can register at www.flutracking.net where they will be asked to complete the brief survey each Monday morning from May until October. On completing each week's survey, participants will be directed to the latest flu map and weekly report.

The influenza season runs from May to October, reaching a peak when the cold hits in August.

*Dr Craig Dalton is a Hunter New England Health public health physician and a Conjoint Senior Lecturer in the University's Faculty of Health and Medicine, and is supported by the Hunter Medical Research Institute. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.


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