A new study has found that those living on remote islands in the north of the country have higher rates of flu than those who live in cities.
The study of nearly 4,000 people in the Cook Strait, one of Australia’s most remote areas, found that residents of Cook Strait islands were twice as likely as people in city areas to be infected with the flu.
The research, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, compared the flu infection rates in the three remote islands with those in cities in the northern states of Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales.
“The main difference is the population size of the islands,” Dr Peter Williams, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, told the ABC.
“The Cook Strait islanders are smaller, they’re smaller and they have a much smaller population density.”
Dr Williams said the Cook Straits people were much less likely to be exposed to other people’s viruses.
“They’re much more likely not to be in contact with the rest of the community, and that means they have lower rates of getting sick,” he said.
Auckland man’s viral challenge sparked an emergency health campaign Dr Williams said that in the long term, the effect of the flu was likely to increase the likelihood of infections among those living in remote communities.
“Because the viruses are spread so widely, the chances of getting one person infected is much greater in remote areas where people don’t have to worry about getting sick themselves,” he told the Nine Network.
Dr Martin Foulkes, a professor of infectious disease and virology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said that the research showed the risk of getting a flu shot for a community was a very real one.
“This study confirms that flu vaccines can be effective at preventing people from getting sick in remote settings, particularly when they’re in close proximity to each other,” Dr Foulke said.
“But in the context of flu season, we’re all worried about how this vaccine will affect the flu season.”
Dr Williams agreed.
“It’s an important finding and one that will be important in terms of our influenza response strategies moving forward,” he added.