Newcastle Herald editorial September 30 2017

THE influenza virus is rarely given that full title.

The “flu” is often invoked in the case of the slightest runny nose or sore throat, whether it is diagnosed as the virus or not.

Perhaps this relates to our busy general practitioners, who can certainly be forgiven for not undertaking extra testing that would make no change to their treatment advice. 

Lake Macquarie’s Nathan Brown would have had no reason to suspect his flu would result in anything worse than the usual week of recuperation and the suite of symptoms we all associate with influenza. 

The same could be said of mother of two Jennifer Thew, who died in the ACT last week after contracting the flu, or for the 38-year-old Hunter man battling complications at the John Hunter Hospital now. 

Tragically, the consequences were much more heartbreaking for the family and friends of Mr Brown, Ms Thew and many more.

These victims of this terrible flu season have not fit the mould of those deemed vulnerable to common ailments.

Given his age, profession and active lifestyle most people would likely have considered Mr Brown among those best equipped to battle influenza.

The flu-related deaths of eight Wangaratta nursing home residents, though shocking in number, were more readily understood. 

That Mr Brown’s apparent good health was not enough to save his life adds resonance to his uncle Peter Brown’s calls for vigilance among those showing signs of infection.

As with many medical issues, that message partly involves shrugging off stoicism in favour of expert advice.

The flu season of today is a far cry from those of a century ago, when a flu traversed the globe in 1918 and 1919 in the worst influenza pandemics in modern history. But the shield of modern medicine is not infallible. These viruses evidently remain all too capable of claiming human lives. 

Expert opinion seems split on whether a widely reported 250 per cent increase in confirmed flu cases nationally is down to more testing or more infections. There is also analysis underway to determine whether a mismatch between the prevalent strain and the flu vaccine was at play this year. 

Whatever those determinations, let Nathan and Jennifer’s legacy be that they helped others seek help sooner.

Issue: 38,611