“Triple hit” of illnesses causing widespread sickness in Australia

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By Creative Media News

  • Australia faces illness spike from flu, COVID-19, RSV
  • Declining vaccination rates worsen susceptibility to flu
  • Experts urge vaccinations amidst rising flu, COVID cases

Australia is experiencing a significant number of illnesses due to a combination of declining vaccination rates and a triple whammy of flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus. 

Lockdowns and measures, including the extensive use of facemasks, contributed to a decrease in the number of flu cases during the pandemic. 

However, this has resulted in a decrease in immunity and an increased susceptibility to the flu, resulting in 3,696 hospital admissions and 379 fatalities from influenza in Australia last year.

The trend has persisted this year, as over 2,000 individuals in New South Wales contracted influenza in the week preceding May 11. This represents a 16% increase from the same period last year.

Additionally, the incidence of COVID-19 is on the rise, and the prevalence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is also elevated. In both adults and children, RSV is a significant cause of respiratory infection and can result in more severe conditions, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

“We have now officially entered the influenza season, and it is anticipated that the number of cases will increase significantly over the next six to eight weeks. Therefore, you must schedule an appointment for a flu vaccine to safeguard yourself and your loved ones,” stated Dr Kerry Chant, the Chief Health Officer of NSW. 

‘This is a reasonable reminder for parents, as we are already observing a rise in the number of young children contracting the virus.

‘The flu vaccine is readily available and free for individuals at a higher risk of severe illness, such as infants aged six months to under five years.’

Additionally, Holly Seale, an associate professor in the School of Population Health at UNSW, issued a cautionary note regarding the decreasing vaccination rate.  

Although the 2024 flu season is still relatively new, only seven per cent of children under the age of five have received their flu vaccination this year,’ stated Dr Seale. 

‘Despite the fact that small children are a particular concern, flu vaccination rates are falling behind the general population. 

From March 1 to April 28, there was a 16% decrease in the number of individuals who received flu vaccinations in comparison to the same period last year, according to reports. 

The highest number of reported flu cases in 2023 was observed in children aged five to nine, with those aged zero to four following in that order. 

Dr Seale wrote that the same pattern is being repeated this flu season. 

Although children are more susceptible to contracting and transmitting influenza, they are also at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms. In particular, this pertains to minors under the age of five, she stated.

The flu vaccine is not flawless; it may not completely prevent infections; however, it is undoubtedly our most promising option for protection. 

Research shows that influenza-related visits to the general practitioner were more than halved in vaccinated children compared to unvaccinated children.

She stated that vaccinations prevent a severe influenza response and reduce transmission in schools and communities. However, some parents need to avoid vaccinations for their children or themselves due to common misconceptions.

“Some parents express apprehensions regarding the vaccine, such as the antiquated belief that it can induce influenza,” she stated. 

The flu vaccine is incapable of transmitting the flu virus due to its absence of an active virus. Regrettably, that misconception is exceedingly resilient.

Dr Seale emphasized that the flu is not exclusively a threat to infants; rather, adults aged 65 and older are also at a higher risk.

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However, the uptake among individuals over the age of 65 has been sluggish this flu season despite their eligibility for a complimentary vaccine. 

Typically, approximately 65% of this demographic receives vaccinations. She stated that approximately 35% of individuals aged 65 and older have received their flu vaccine thus far this year.

Additionally, pregnant women and individuals with chronic lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or cardiac disease are eligible for the influenza vaccine at no cost.

Previous research has revealed that the coverage of flu vaccines for pregnant women varies across the country, ranging from 39% to 76%. This implies that in certain regions, up to 60% of pregnant women are not receiving the vaccine.

Dr Chant stated that vaccinations are a priority due to the continued presence of Covid in the community, as the virus activity has increased from low to moderate levels. 

“We also want to remind the community that symptomatic individuals should remain at home and wear a mask if they must venture out, given the presence of all three viruses (flu, Covid, and RSV) in circulation,” she stated.

They should refrain from visiting high-risk environments, such as hospitals and aged and disability care environments.

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