The figures, provided by the federal Department of Health and Ageing today, are believed to be just a fraction of actual flu infections, but they give the best seasonal comparison.
They offer official confirmation that the nation is in the grip of its worst influenza season in many years, with nine lives lost so far.
Six children from four states have died from one of two virulent strains of influenza A virus, H3N2 or H1N1.
Three adults – a 37-year-old Queensland man, a 48-year-old woman from South Australia and a 33-year-old Queensland mother-of-two – have also died after suffering flu-like symptoms.
Severe flu seasons can be as bad or worse than a mild pandemic. Here's a post from our colleague Revere, one of the epidemiologists at Effect Measure, the pogressive public health blog, outlining exactly that. From Effect Measure:
Given our posts (here, here) on the particularly severe flu season in Australia, we thought it useful to remind ourselves that a bad flu season can be really bad -- worse than the 1918 pandemic in some locations. Here is a post we did back in April 2006 about an interesting paper (see link in post) by Cecile Viboud and her colleagues at NIH that looks at historical records on flu mortality. Flu is a bad disease, pandemic strain or not. Why some flu is worse than others we don't know.
The hospital diversions and capacity overflow is a reminder that health issues in this country (not just Australia) need to be kept front and center as a priority. A bad flu season would overwhelm our own EDs
A  study to be published in the April 2002 Annals of Emergency Medicine on emergency department use and capacity in California, sheds light on the overcrowding problem nationwide and provides the first objective data on this crisis in the United States. (Trends in the Use and Capacity of California's Emergency Departments, 1990-1999).
The study finds that in the past decade (1990-1999) emergency departments in California decreased by 12 percent, while the number of emergency department visits at each hospital increased 27 percent to about 25,778 annually.
and the efforts to prepare for a flu pandemic (whatever strain of virus) only highlight the health infrastructure issues here in the US that are every bit as ignored as crumbling bridges... until they collapse. To their credit, California is trying to address surge capacity issues in their hospitals. Is that happening in other states, with backing from the legislatures?
The SCHIP program's proposed expansion to cover underinsured children (and Bush's virulent and mean-spirited opposition) is in the news now, and other health care issues need to stay in the news through the primaries and right up to the election. Government has an important role in rebuilding our health infrastructure, and we need to make sure the candidates from both parties articulate what they see that role as.
From universal health care coverage to single payor alternatives to mental health coverage to SCHIP and children's insurance, there needs to be a question about health care and public health in every debate from here on in, both for the GOP and for the Democrats. America needs to know what alternatives they have when they go to the voting booth, and what the alternatives will cost (nothing is free). GOP reliance on private sector alternatives need to be highlighted and explored (See Gene Sperling's evaluation of SCHIP).
This election cycle, health and public health infrastructure cannot be ignored, or it, too, will crumble under the ordinary stresses of a flu season (or worse). There's a reason SICKO had such an impact when it was released. And "no one could foresee..." will not be an acceptable answer.