Doctors are warning Hunter residents to vaccinate against the deadly flu strain

Flu season is almost upon the Hunter and local doctors have issued a warning to residents to vaccinate against what could potentially be a deadly strain.

More than 650 people died in NSW from flu-like symptoms last year, a fact health officials say should be a wake-up call to the community to protect themselves and their loved ones.

More than 1100 people have died from influenza and pneumonia in the Hunter New England Health district in a decade, NSW government data shows.

Over the decade from 2005 to 2015, more than 30,000 cases were recorded in the Hunter New England area of people being hospitalised for influenza and pneumonia.

The data showed 75 per cent of people aged 65 and over received a flu vaccine in 2014-15, but only 53 per cent of those people had the pneumonia vaccine.

Doctors say people are needlessly risking their lives by not being vaccinated against pneumonia.

People aged 65 and over are most at risk. The data reports influenza and pneumonia together because the two diseases often go hand-in-hand.

This year a $1.75 million campaign to tackle the flu season is urging people to get their jab early and clean their hands regularly to avoid a repeat of last year’s influenza epidemic.

NSW Health’s Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said frequent hand washing is one of the first lines of defence against another flu epidemic, together with early vaccination. “We urge people to get their flu jab when the vaccine is available in April to ensure they are protected ahead of time, as the vaccine takes two weeks to be fully effective,” Dr Chant said.

The NSW Government will spend a record $22.75 million on immunisation programs and will set up UV light “germ detectors” at some transport hubs and shopping centres so people can test their hand cleanliness.

Flu shots are free for pregnant women, children aged up to six and people aged over 65, Aboriginal people and those with asthma, diabetes and heart problems.

This story Warning of deadly flu season first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.