The Big Game Draws Record Infections in Australia

The Big Game is coming to town, and with it comes a record number of infections. In anticipation of the event, Victoria has seen a spike in cases of the flu. The state’s health officials are urging residents to get their shots now before they come down with influenza themselves.

Victoria has seen more cases of the flu this year—and earlier in the season—than it had by this time last year. According to data from Public Health, there have been more than 12,000 cases since January. That’s already double the number of cases recorded for all of 2010. And while most who come down with influenza are aware of the symptoms and will recover fully in a matter of days, this year has seen more than its fair share of fatalities. The virus is claiming hundreds across the state each year, and it’s feared that even more could succumb to illness by the time The Big Game rolls around on February 25th.

Health officials attribute recent outbreaks in part to the unusually high number of fans who are traveling to Melbourne for the game. The Big Game draws visitors from all over the world, and it’s estimated that more than 2 million people will fly in or drive to town for the event. Many will arrive with little resistance against influenza, exposing them immediately to the virus.

But while most are aware that they’re at risk when traveling, fewer realize the threat posed to their health in their own cities. It’s not just about whether or not you go on a trip, said Dr. Peter Langridge of Peninsula Medical Center.But also where you live. The virus is spread by live and dead particles—including but not limited to saliva, mucus and feces—that are left in the environment. This means that if a person comes down with influenza, he or she will likely be contagious for three days. And if they live in an area where dozens of others have already become ill during a flu outbreak, there’s a very high chance that those who come into contact with infected particles will themselves become ill.

Public health officials are urging those who plan to attend the game to be particularly vigilant, as they’ve seen a higher number of cases of influenza A and B—the more dangerous form of the virus—than usual. If you’re planning on traveling for The Big Game, you should get your flu shot at least two weeks before the event so that it will have time to take effect. And even if you don’t plan on going, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.It’s always better to be safe than sorry, Langridge said.

Those who haven’t been inoculated against the influenza virus should take extra care to avoid any potentially contaminated surfaces, including door knobs and doorknobs. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, and dispose of the soiled tissue in a properly sealed garbage can. And if you have been exposed to someone else’s mucus via a handshake or sharing food or drinks with an infected individual, good hand hygiene is imperative.

Washing your hands with soap and water can wash away any virus particles that you’ve picked up on your skin, Langridge said. But if there’s a flu outbreak in your community, you may need to turn off the tap and put some antibacterial scrub in its place. This will go a long way toward protecting you and your loved ones from infection.

It’s also important that we protect the health of Victoria’s emergency responders, paramedics and healthcare professionals. They’re on the front lines when it comes to public safety and do essential work day in and day out—work which becomes exponentially more difficult during flu season. And while it’s true that influenza can’t be transmitted through the air, it is responsible for placing an enormous burden on medical facilities during flu season

For this reason, health care personnel are urged to get their flu shots as soon as possible. Their lives may depend on it—not only theirs but those of countless others who call Victoria home. As Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, a public health physician at the CDC, says: Flu season doesn’t just affect you—it affects your community.

I encourage everyone to take appropriate actions to protect themselves and their loved ones from this potentially devastating infection. As long as we’re vigilant about preventing the spread of disease, we can get through flu season unscathed.