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‘500 per cent’ surge in flu cases among children sees hospitals and doctors struggle

Two years without flu have left Australians extremely vulnerable to infection and a surge in cases, especially among children, with pharmacists urged to administer emergency flu shots.  

Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital has reported that flu cases for children jumped from just 16 in the entire month of March to 120 in the past fortnight alone – an increase of 500 per cent – while NSW has also seen a surge. 

Leading epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett of Deakin University told Daily Mail Australia she supported a call made by the Pharmacy Guild to let pharmacists give flu shots to younger children to stop the situation from deteriorating.

Leading epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett said that two years of shutting Australia’s international borders had created a ‘disruption’ meaning people had less immunity to flu 

Children are proving very vulnerable to the flu leading to a 500% increase in cases at a Melbourne hospital and pharmacists are calling for the right to vaccinate younger children

Children are proving very vulnerable to the flu leading to a 500% increase in cases at a Melbourne hospital and pharmacists are calling for the right to vaccinate younger children

‘We need to makes sure there are no access barriers so parents and kids aren’t forced to wait when flu exposure is already on the rise,’ Professor Bennett said.

‘It takes a couple of weeks to get the full benefit of the vaccines.’ 

Professor Bennett said two years of closing the international borders to keep out Covid had also stopped flu strains from entering the country which had led to a ‘disruption’ of natural immunity.

‘Two years in isolation prevented Northern Hemisphere winter variants from circulating in Australia,’ she said.

‘Social distancing measures also had some effect. This meant we weren’t exposed to these diseases and the consequence is our immunity levels are down.’   

Professor Bennett said this was a warning for people to get the flu shot as early as possible.

‘The vaccines we have this year are a good match and proving effective at stopping the circulating strains of flu,’ she said.

‘Everyone should get vaccinated early, including children from six months of age.’

‘Ultimately the goal is stop people going into hospital and protect them from complications that could see them end up in the ICU or even worse.’

Professor Catherine Bennett has backed a call for pharmacies to be allowed to give vaccinations to younger children saying that they need to be in arms as early as possible to take effect

Professor Catherine Bennett has backed a call for pharmacies to be allowed to give vaccinations to younger children saying that they need to be in arms as early as possible to take effect

NSW branch president of the Pharmacy Guild David Heffernan told the Sydney Morning Herald that it would help get vaccination rates up if pharmacists could give the flu jab to children aged between five and 10.

Presently they can only vaccinate children over the age of 10.

The NSW government said it was taking advice on this and ‘is hopeful that a decision will be made sooner rather than later’.

In Victoria, the flu surge has happened earlier than normal with the peak flu season normally July to August.

Professor Bennett, who is Chair in Epidemiology at Melbourne’s Deakin University, said this was being observed across the country.

‘Flu notifications have increased three-fold in the last couple of weeks,’ she said.

‘As day length shortens, and weather cools so people spend more time gathered indoors, flu rates will rise.’

As an extra precaution against flu, Professor Bennett also recommended maintaining Covid measures.

‘The precautions that have helped slow transmission of Covid – hygiene, distancing and masks – will also reduce our risk of picking up a cold or catching the flu,’ she said.  

‘So it’s worth keeping these going as well as exposure to all respiratory illnesses rises over the next couple of months.’ 

Fairfax reported Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital had also seen an increase in other viruses such as rhinovirus, parainfluenza, coronavirus and enteroviruses in children.

Covid cases are also up although not at the levels seen with Omicron’s peak early in the year.

The surge in flu and other sickness has meant the numbers attending the hospital’s emergency department have well exceeded the normal winter peak of 300 on some days.

Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital issued an extraordinary plea for parents not to bring 'less urgent' cases to their emergency department because of the surge of flu and other illness

Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital issued an extraordinary plea for parents not to bring ‘less urgent’ cases to their emergency department because of the surge of flu and other illness 

With many staff also off sick and isolated with Covid this led the hospital to make an extraordinary statement on its Facebook page last week that requested ‘less urgent cases’ should not attend the emergency department.

‘The most seriously injured or sickest children will always be seen first,’ the statement said.

‘Therefore, we are currently working closely with the Department of Health and Ambulance Victoria to divert less urgent care where possible.’

Families were urged to seek alternative medical attention from their GP, ask for health advice from their local pharmacist or contact the Nurse on Call.

Comments underneath the statement indicated a level of despair at accessing these options.

‘GPS should not be allowed to ‘not see’ a child with respiratory symptoms anymore,’ wrote Kimberley Ellis.

‘It’s almost impossible to get a doctor to see your child and then they get ignored and it goes from a cold to an ear infection to fevers that can’t be controlled coz ‘they have a cough so we won’t see them – take them to the hospital’ they say….’  

Kevser A Kartal wrote that she ‘can’t believe how bad our health care system has gotten.’

‘We are terrified of needing care at a hospital level.’ she continued.

‘This should never be the case. Something needs to be done asap. Sending lots of love and prayers to the sick and all the nurses and doctors working around the clock !!!’

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk