AN EARLY start to the flu season has brought attention to a new test that could reduce the number of flu-related hospital admissions.
The Murrumbidgee district has 163 confirmed cases of influenza this year, compared to the 42 reports during the same time last year.
Murrumbidgee Local Health District public health acting director Alison Nikitas said there was "no hard evidence" that explained the "definite increase" of cases in the area.
She said the assumption has been that it was brought into the country via travellers.
However, a new flu test - that has been shown to detect influenza within two hours - could help save lives and stop the spread.
Ms Nikitas said there was great benefit to rapid testing.
"This new test is much more specific. The hospital is not sending patients away to come back once the results are in," she said. "It excludes unnecessary investigations, prevents unnecessary hospital admissions and reduces the spread of influenza."
The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) swab test produces an influenza diagnosis up to 24 hours quicker than a conventional flu test.
The findings published in the Australian Medical Journal on Monday, found almost 70 per cent of patients received their results within two hours and were treated on the spot, while those with negative results were sent home.
However, Australian Medical Association's Victorian president Julian Rait has cautioned that while the study showed promising results more research was needed.
Ms Nikitas said local health services could not predict the severity of this year's flu season.
"We are monitoring cases and planning ahead to reduce the burden on our hospitals and emergency departments," she said.
In the meantime, Ms Nikitas encouraged people to take advantage of the influenza vaccinations.
Most clinics should receive their vaccines from May 1.
Parents of small children and people in high risk groups are urged to book a flu jab ahead of winter.
"The basic advice is to stay home when unwell. Don't struggle and work on because there's the risk of transmitting it to colleagues," Ms Nikitas said.
"Sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands, discard tissues after use and washing hands is critical."
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