51 dead as horror flu season takes toll
QUEENSLAND'S flu death toll has risen to at least 51 as an immunisation expert issued a plea to parents of young children to get them vaccinated against the virus.
The number of deaths is already eight more than for the whole of 2018 with the peak of the flu season expected in August-September.
Although the youngest influenza-associated death in the state this year was aged in their early twenties, Queensland Health's immunisation program medical director Jonathan Malo said children under five were at a high risk of flu complications.
He said 2,203 laboratory confirmed flu notifications had been recorded in Queensland children younger than five this year, including 169 who required admission to public hospitals with the flu. Ten of them ended up in intensive care.
"We know this age group is particularly susceptible to potentially fatal complications from flu, such as sepsis and pneumonia, because their immune system is still developing, and they may lack previous exposure to flu," Dr Malo said.
He said rates of flu in young children per head of population were much higher than any other age group this year. Children are also known as "super spreaders".
"If they develop flu they tend to pass it on a lot more than other people so kids greatly contribute to the spread of flu in the community," Dr Malo said. "That's another reason to try to get them vaccinated."
Vaccinations for children aged from six months to less than five years are free, paid for by the Queensland Government.
In 2018, about a quarter of eligible children received the free jab but health authorities hope to build on that this year.
If a child aged under nine years is receiving a flu vaccination for the first time, they will need two doses, with the second given four weeks after the first.
Queensland Health data shows 23,947 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu so far in 2019 - almost five times higher than the five-year average for this time of year.
That includes 1493 people who have been admitted to public hospitals, about 10 per cent of them needing intensive care treatment.
In 2018, 15,694 cases of flu were recorded in Queensland during the 12 months - 8253 fewer than this year.
Of the 51 confirmed influenza-associated deaths so far in 2019, 28 have been people aged in their eighties or over.
Another three were aged under 50, five were in their 50s, six in their 60s and nine in their 70s.
As expected, most of the deaths have occurred in the heavily populated areas of Brisbane and surrounds with the Metro North Hospital and Health Service recording 13 and Metro South, 10.
Townsville has had seven flu-related deaths this year and the Sunshine Coast, six.
Dr Malo said the flu could be serious in even healthy young people.
"Young people have already died this year which is tragic," he said. "It's never too late to get vaccinated."