The Courier-Mail

‘Bris­bane strain’ noth­ing to sniff at


- ROSE BREN­NAN Health · Infectious Diseases · Influenza · Health Conditions · World Health Organization · Queensland · Gold Coast · California · Switzerland · Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy · Queensland Health

QUEENS­LAND is in the grip of its worst flu sea­son on record, sparked by a huge in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple be­ing in­fected with the “Bris­bane” strain.

Aus­tralian health author­i­ties were warned by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion in Septem­ber last year of in­fluenza B, known as “Bris­bane”, but by then it was too late to in­clude it in the free vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram.

There have been 15,403 cases of in­fluenza in Queens­land this year, about 5000 above the same time last year. Of those more than 10,000 have been in­fluenza B, com­pared with just 1161 of that type recorded by Au­gust 24 last year.

More than 3000 flu cases were re­ported in the week to Au­gust 23 and by Wed­nes­day the num­ber of flu no­ti­fi­ca­tions for this year will top 18,500, mak­ing it the worst since the swine flu in 2009.

By com­par­i­son there were just over 2400 cases for the en­tire year in 2010. The Princess Alexan­dra Hos­pi­tal and the Royal Bris­bane and Women’s Hos­pi­tal went to Code Yel­low last Mon­day un­der the strain of flu cases.

Sev­eral preg­nant women on the Gold Coast have also had to be brought into the ICU be­cause of the sever­ity of their flu.

Queens­land Health sta­tis­tics show that six weeks ago flu cases shot up to 1000 a week – dou­bling the steady rate for the past four weeks – and have con­tin­ued to rise.

The flu has hos­pi­talised 813 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 76 in in­ten­sive care.

In­fluenza Spe­cial­ist Group di­rec­tor Pro­fes­sor Paul van Buyn­der said it was the worst flu sea­son he had seen.

He said the flu sea­son had started ear­lier and was ex­pected to last for at least another month.

“It’s been a very sur­pris­ing year,” Pro­fes­sor Van Buyn­der said.

“This has the po­ten­tial to go for another month I think be­cause of the chang­ing strain, which would be longer than other flu sea­sons.”

The gov­ern­ment-funded flu vac­cine is pro­vided free to the el­derly, the chron­i­cally ill and in­dige­nous chil­dren and pro­tects against three strains of the flu – in­fluenza A Cal­i­for­nia, in­fluenza A Switzer­land and in­fluenza B Phuket – but not the in­fluenza B Bris­bane strain.

How­ever the ex­pen­sive quadri­va­lent vac­cine, which is gov­ern­ment sub­sidised, does pro­tect against the Bris­bane strain.

AMA Queens­land chair of the Coun­cil of Gen­eral Prac­tice Dr Richard Kidd said in re­cent weeks twothirds of hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions had been caused by the Bris­bane strain of in­fluenza B.

“The in­fluenza B Bris­bane strain has been a very sig­nif­i­cant part of the flu no­ti­fi­ca­tions we’re get­ting,” he said.

“One of the real chal­lenges with the flu is that it keeps chang­ing.

“Any one per­son with the in­fec­tion could pro­duce one or two strains from the ones they’ve got be­cause it mu­tates so quickly.”

Dr Richard Kidd.
VERY SICK CALL: Dr Richard Kidd.

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