National News

A push to put a mask on this flu season

A push to protect people against the flu with a "weak" vaccine is overshadowing effective prevention methods such as hand-washing and mask-wearing, warns a public health expert.

Dr Chris Del Mar, Professor of Public Health at Bond University has challenged the value of influenza vaccinations while speaking at the GPs Down Under Conference on the Gold Coast.

He claims the influenza vaccine has been "oversold" in Australia and said hand-washing and mask-wearing should be the focus of flu prevention campaigns.

Prof Del Mar pointed to a review that found seasonal flu vaccines only reduced the rate of laboratory confirmed influenza cases by between one to two per cent.

"Influenza is indeed a true threat to public health and I am not a vaccine sceptic in general, but annual influenza vaccinations do little to protect against serious illness," Prof Del Mar told AAP.

"My viewing of the evidence is that the amount of benefit for influenza vaccine is very, very weak and it makes me think that this is not a great use of our effort in trying to immunise large swathes of the population when there are other opportunities that my be more effective," he said.

Simple hygiene methods such as handwashing, face masks and quarantine should not be forgotten, Prof Del Mar said.

"Perhaps we should be encouraging people to wear masks much more often than is socially acceptable in Australia but is socially acceptable in places like Japan and other parts of East Asia,"

He also wants to see the sterilisation of public places, such as buses and trains.

Dr Tony Bartone, President of the Australian Medical Association said health authorities have never shied away from the fact the influenza vaccine is not as effective as a number of other vaccines.

An ineffective vaccine was partly to blame for last year's "horror" flu season, he said.

"The effectiveness in our elderly population was probably as low as 30 per cent or even less," Dr Bartone said.

He also agreed hand-washing was critical against controlling the spread of influenza.

"The best way not to catch something is avoid it," he said.

He said this year's vaccine promises to be much more effective.

"We must not overlook the effectiveness and importance of influenza vaccination as part of a generalised strategy to control the spread of a significant disease that has the potential to kill," Dr Bartone said.

© AAP 2018