SOUTH-WEST residents are being urged to get their flu shot before the worst of winter sets in.
Lockdowns and social distancing measures have seen levels of influenza circulating the community at an all-time low.
According to the Victorian Health Department's interactive infectious diseases report, there have been three influenza cases in Warrnambool this year, a stark contrast to 36 cases the same time last year and 371 for the same period in 2019.
Moyne, Corangamite, Glenelg and Southern Grampians Shires only recorded one influenza case this year so far.
South West Healthcare chief executive Craig Fraser warned complacency could be dangerous and urged Warrnambool residents to ensure they had their annual flu vaccine.
"Just because you might have had a COVID vaccine it's not going to stop you from getting the flu," Mr Fraser said.
"Flu is still a major risk factor for people in winter and I really encourage them to get that flu shot.
"It will get worse as we go into the deeper part of winter which is why it's important to get the flu jab now so we don't see an increase in flu numbers."
The warning comes as COVID restrictions continue to ease in the wake of last month's snap lockdown.
Australia saw the lowest number of influenza cases on record in 2020, and there have been few cases recorded over the past six months, following a record-high number in 2019.
Experts have warned the flu season could hit harder and later in 2021, given a year with very little flu can often mean a reduced immunity in the population, resulting in a big flu season the following year.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said that, last year, a record number of flu vaccinations were doled out across the country.
"We need to do the same again this year," he said.
Influenza vaccine can be given before or after any dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with a minimum interval of seven days, The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) says.
An influenza vaccine can be given in between two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
People are advised to leave two weeks between any COVID vaccination and flu vaccination.
Nationally there's been a 13 per cent flu vaccine rate decline compared to this time last year.
Influenza costs Australian business more than $2 billion per year, with approximately 1.5 million lost workdays due to illness.
Influenza causes up to 3500 lives lost and 18,000 hospital visits each year.
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