The emergency department of Queensland Children’s Hospital (QCH) in Brisbane is experiencing unprecedented demand, with record numbers of patients last month.
- This year’s flu season started earlier than usual and seems to be peaking before the typical August peak.
- People are more susceptible to the flu than in previous years after being protected by COVID-19 restrictions in the last two years.
- Only a quarter of Queensland residents who were entitled to free flu vaccinations by June 30 were vaccinated against the season.
Figures show that the hospital, which opened in November 2014, treats 205 patients in the emergency department (ED) every day.
But in seven days over the last fortnight, it has grown to more than 300 children a day – a jump of about 30 percent – resulting in much longer waiting times than usual.
“May 2022 was the busiest month in history for the emergency department of Queensland Children’s Hospital,” a hospital spokesman said.
“In May 2022, there was a 21% increase in ED presentations compared to April 2022.”
The spokesman said the number of children suffering from respiratory distress due to diseases such as COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus increased by 78 percent in May compared to the previous month.
Some of these children required admission to the hospital and a “very small number” needed intensive care.
This year’s flu season began earlier than usual and seemed to peak before the typical August peak, the spokesman said.
Brisbane Infectious Diseases Specialist Paul Griffin, an associate professor at the University of Queensland, said people were more susceptible to the flu than in previous years after being protected by COVID-19 restrictions in the past two years.
“It looks like it’s going to be a very important season – we see a lot of presentations,” he said.
“There are consequences… of influenza which may subsequently lead to admission to the track.
“We know it significantly increases your chances of getting even bacterial pneumonia in the weeks after the flu, so we see a lot of things in our hospitals.
Recent Queensland Health data show that 12,143 flu cases have been reported so far in 2022, more than double the five-year average for the first five months of the year.
Although all Queensland residents over the age of six months are eligible for free flu vaccinations until June 30, only a quarter of the population has opted for seasonal vaccinations.
“We really should have a much, much higher rate,” Dr. Griffin said.
“We know that the flu vaccine is both safe and effective and will be very long to prevent people from becoming infected, but most importantly, a bit like COVID, it will prevent them from really getting sick and … end up in the hospital.”
At this stage, Queensland Health has not yet ordered influenza vaccination for visitors to the elderly facility, as has been the case with COVID-19.
“I know the issue of vaccination mandates remains controversial, but I think the evidence is clear given such a sensitive group of people in a very high-risk environment,” said Dr Griffin.
Dr Griffin said he would also like to see Queenslanders voluntarily wear masks in a high-risk environment.
“I would still greatly encourage the use of masks if you go anywhere where there is a prospect of long-term close contact inside or there are a lot of people,” he said.
“We know that at this point, it is very likely that people with COVID and the flu will be wherever there are a large number of people.”
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