Dire warning as shocking flu death toll revealed

ALMOST three deaths a week have been linked to the flu in Queensland this year, with the official toll rising to 95.

That has prompted a warning from Health Minister Steven Miles that the worst may be yet to come.

The number of flu-associated deaths is already more than 120 per cent higher than the 43 recorded for the whole of 2018.

Although the bulk of the deaths have been among the elderly - people in their 70s or older - four have been in Queenslanders aged between 20 and 49.

"This flu season has been a shocker," Mr Miles said.

"There are Queensland children who have lost their mothers. Just about everything is replaceable, but you can't bring mothers back. Flu does not discriminate. It can, and does, affect fit and healthy Queenslanders every year."

Mr Miles said he had been advised by health experts that this year's flu season had probably not yet peaked.

"More people could get sick, more people could end up in intensive care, more people could die," he said.

The latest Federal Health Department statistics show 46,130 people have been diagnosed with influenza in Queensland so far in 2019 - 3.5 times the five-year mean.

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles, who describes this year’s flu season as “a shocker”. Pic Annette Dew
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles, who describes this year’s flu season as “a shocker”. Pic Annette Dew

The highest rates of laboratory confirmed cases have been in five to nine-year-old children and in people aged in their 80s and older.

Queensland Health data shows 2185 people have been admitted to public hospitals as a result of the flu so far this year, including 212 who needed intensive care treatment.

That's 1.5 times the five-year state average for flu-related public hospital admissions at this time of year.

Mr Miles said the proportion of people with influenza being admitted to Queensland Health hospitals is highest in babies yet to celebrate their first birthdays and in adults over 60.

"Seeing children suffering from a largely preventable disease breaks my heart," he said. "No parent wants to see their baby in a hospital bed."

The Palaszczuk Government funds free flu vaccines for children aged six months to less than five years.

"I urge parents, if they haven't done so already, to book their children in for a flu vaccine," Mr Miles said.

He said the Queensland Government had committed a record $20 million to support public hospitals this flu season, including the implementation of a winter bed strategy - double the usual investment.

Acting president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia's Queensland branch Rick Xynias said many local pharmacies were equipped to administer the annual flu shot, without the need for an appointment.

"You can often pop in before or after work or on your lunch break and be back on your way in less than half an hour," he said. "Last year more than a million Australians got their flu vaccination for their local community pharmacy. This year we expect that number to double."