True swine flu toll 'may never be known'
October 21, 2009
Authorities may never know the true death toll from swine flu in this country, chief medical officer Jim Bishop says.
Australia has now moved beyond the pandemic's "main thrust", which lasted 18 weeks, Professor Bishop told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra.
But he warned the community not to become complacent because a "second wave" could reach our shores as soon as this summer.
There have been 186 swine flu-related deaths in Australia to date.
However, trying to establish the number of people killed directly by the flu itself was extremely difficult, Prof Bishop said.
That's because those who died were already suffering from underlying chronic illnesses.
"Those sorts of issue may never be resolved," the chief medical officer said on Wednesday.
Some 36,900 Australians have so far tested positive for swine flu; 4,890 have been hospitalised, with 737 needing intensive care.
"It was a moderate impact on our population but because of that percentage ... up the bad end of the spectrum, the intensive care units have reported that this was a much worse flu season than they'd normally see," Prof Bishop said.
What happens next is unpredictable and experts are hoping nothing occurs until next flu season.
"But that's only one scenario," Prof Bishop warned.
"Alternatively, as in the United States or the United Kingdom, there may be large or small outbreaks in diverse geographical areas through our summer."
He said just because winter and the traditional flu season was over didn't mean swine flu should be ignored.
A vaccine is currently available free of charge.