by Matt Walsh
CANBERRA, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- Australia is currently in the grip of its worst flu epidemic in recent memory, and while some politicians have blamed the vaccine for not being fully effective, Australia's blase attitude to the flu has also contributed to the more than 160,000 cases, according to medical professionals.
So far in 2017, more than 166,000 cases of influenza have been recorded in Australia, a massive jump from the 91,000 recorded in 2016, while at least 97 people have died so far from this year's strain.
In particular, the state of Victoria has been hit hard.
The state was recently rocked by the news that an eight-year-old girl had died, while on Wednesday, news surfaced that a 33-year-old mother who was suffering from the flu while pregnant was induced into a coma and has given birth to a boy in an emergency birth.
A young father also died on Father's Day in August after contracting the flu.
The state's health minister has already conceded that this year's flu vaccination had "not been fully effective," but some medical experts have said that Australia's relaxed attitude toward sickness, combined with a reluctance to visit a doctor, contributed to this year's horror season.
Earlier this month, President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Michael Gannon warned the nation's leaders that the country was "woefully unprepared" for the upcoming flu season, while the AMA's vice-president, Dr. Tony Bartone, on Wednesday said that Australia's culture was to blame.
The AMA VP said that many Australians confused the influenza with the "common cold," meaning many do not seek out their flu shots or dismiss symptoms of the flu as minor.
The federal government has already declared that it would be commissioning a review into this year's bumper flu season.
A spokesperson for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the next priority needed to be creating "stronger" vaccines in the future.
"The minister has asked the Chief Medical Officer to examine whether there are ways to strengthen the National Immunization Program, including holding talks with manufacturers on new and strengthened vaccines," the spokesperson for the minister told News Corp on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there are renewed calls for flu shots to be made free in the wake of the death of eight-year-old Victorian girl Rosie Brealey this week.
Currently in Australia, vaccines are free to those aged 65 years and older, pregnant women and those of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island background, while everyone else must pay 11 Australian dollars (8.80 U.S. dollars) plus the cost of a doctor's visit.
Deputy chief health officer in Victoria, Dr, Brett Sutton, said that flu shots are free for children in Britain, a fact which should open up a "national conversation."
"The experience internationally is the more (children) can be immunized... the less that the elderly need to worry about being exposed to (influenza)," he told Fairfax Media. (1 Australian dollar equals 0.81 U.S. dollar) Enditem