Queensland’s horrific flu death toll revealed
AT LEAST 25 Queenslanders have died of the flu so far this year, more than half the number for the whole of 2018, with the peak of the season yet to hit.
Figures obtained from Queensland Health show flu deaths are up 56 per cent on the 16 recorded during the same period last year.
With confirmed flu cases running at more than three times the five-year average at this time of year, Queensland is on track to surpass the 2018 total of 43 influenza deaths.
Queensland Health does not usually release data related to flu deaths, but has taken the unusual step of providing the numbers this year, after a request from The Courier-Mail and to encourage people to get a flu vaccination.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young used the data to plead with people to get a flu shot as soon as possible.
"Flu is a serious viral illness," she said.
"It is not the same as a common cold and these figures clearly show how serious the complications can be. Vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza."
So far this year, 10,328 cases of laboratory-confirmed flu have been registered in Queensland and more than 800 people have been admitted to the state's public hospitals with the virus since the start of the year, including 73 who required intensive care.
The death data has been extracted from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages' Notifiable Conditions System and flu experts say it is "almost certainly" an underestimate of the actual numbers.
To be included in the data, "influenza" must be recorded on a person's death certificate and the virus must have been confirmed in a laboratory.
In a bad year, immunisation experts such as Professor Paul Van Buynder, of Griffith University, estimate that across Australia, about 4000 people die of the flu. Most of them are elderly.
Prof Van Buynder said experts were perplexed about the higher-than-usual numbers of flu infections at this time of year.
"What we do know is we're seeing a mix of two different influenza A viruses circulating and that's contributing to increased flu notifications because it means that different age groups are being attacked by different flu viruses," he said.
"It's unusual to have both of them circulating at the same time. We often see one at the start and then the other one turns up later but at the moment, we're seeing both H1N1 and H3N2 circulating at the same time.
"One's more likely to affect children and young adults and the other affects old people but they're both around so everybody's going to be impacted."
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dilip Dhupelia particularly urged pregnant woman to get a flu jab.
"They've got a valuable, unborn baby in their wombs and we need them to be protected," Dr Dhupelia said.
"Pregnant women are twice as likely to be hospitalised with complications of the flu than non-pregnant women."
He said vaccination during pregnancy was estimated to reduce the risk of flu in babies aged less than six months by about half.
Dr Dhupelia said it was "extremely important" for people with flu symptoms to stay home and not go to work, risking the health of colleagues.