‘Brisbane strain’ nothing to sniff at
HORROR FLU SEASON WARNING ‘TOO LATE’
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.”