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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