The Courier-Mail

Bris­bane flu ‘not on the radar’ but try telling that to 13,000 vic­tims

- ROSE BREN­NAN

THE “Bris­bane strain” of in­fluenza be­hind a surge of in­fec­tions grip­ping the state is likely to be in­cluded in next year’s vac­cine.

But the de­ci­sion will be cold com­fort to the thou­sands of peo­ple who have fallen ill to the “un­ex­pected epi­demic” that has caught Queens­land Health on the hop.

The depart­ment, which has recorded 9000 flu cases in the past three weeks, is stand­ing by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion not to in­clude the Bris­bane strain of in­fluenza B in the gov­ern­ment vac­cine.

In­fluenza B Bris­bane was in­cluded in the vac­cine in 2010, 2011 and 2012 but as case num­bers dropped, health author­i­ties dis­re­garded the strain as a ma­jor threat.

Queens­land Health’s Com­mu­ni­ca­ble Dis­eases Unit ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Dr Sonya Ben­nett said while the strain was un­ex­pected “about 75 per cent of the strains cir­cu­lat­ing are still cov­ered in the vac­cine.”

“The strains set for the south­ern hemi­sphere were those that were cir­cu­lat­ing in the north­ern hemi­sphere and (were) ex­pected to be the same strains cir­cu­lat­ing here and that was B Phuket and not the B Bris­bane strain,” Dr Ben­nett said.

“There was no in­di­ca­tion that the B Bris­bane strain would be so sig­nif­i­cant as it is this year.”

The $30 quadri­va­lent vac­cine is the only pro­tec­tion from in­fluenza B Bris­bane.

In the week to Au­gust 30 there were 2933 flu cases with 76 per cent of these in­fluenza B cases. In­fluenza A is usu­ally the most cul­pa­ble.

The Bris­bane strain has ac­counted for 27 per cent of in­fluenza B cases in the year to Au­gust 23. Usu­ally a sec­ond strain of in­fluenza B only ac­counts for about 5 per cent.

Flu cases in the past three weeks have made up 48 per cent of the 18,600 cases recorded so far this year. In­fluenza B Phuket has ac­counted Flu cases year to date. On par with the 2009 swine flu epi­demic (in­cludes Bris­bane ‘B’ strain) cases this year Flu cases di­ag­nosed in past 3 weeks (48% of a typ­i­cal year’s worth of flu) Free vac­cine doses dis­trib­uted to GPs (not in­clud­ing quadri­va­lent which pro­tects against Bris­bane strain) for 73 per cent of this year’s cases up to Au­gust 23 and is cov­ered in the gov­ern­ment’s vac­cine.

Dr Ben­nett said the fi­nal de­ci­sion on the strains to in­clude was made in Fe­bru­ary.

Dr Ben­nett said if the Bris­bane strain had the same im­pact in the north­ern hemi­sphere as in Aus­tralia it would likely be in­cluded in the gov­ern­ment-funded flu shot next win­ter. Queens­land Health has dis­trib­uted to GPs 809,000 adult vac­cines and 12,000 doses for chil­dren.

Many peo­ple would have been vac­ci­nated through the pri­vate mar­ket as well.

A fed­eral health spokes­woman said it was dif­fi­cult to pre­dict which strains needed to be in the triva­lent vac­cine.

“This is a dif­fi­cult task as it is chal­leng­ing to pre­dict, in Septem­ber the year be­fore, which strains may be in cir­cu­la­tion dur­ing the flu sea­son the fol­low­ing year.”

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