The Courier-Mail

‘Brisbane strain’ nothing to sniff at

HORROR FLU SEASON WARNING ‘TOO LATE’

- ROSE BRENNAN

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.”

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

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