A Victorian child has died following a massive spike in summer flu, health authorities have confirmed to Starts at 60.
Victoria’s Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton broke the tragic news and said the child passed away from influenza.
“Unfortunately, we can confirm that a child has died from influenza. However, we must respect medical privacy and confidentiality at this time and can’t divulge any further details,” Sutton explained. “As with any unexpected death in a child it will be looked at by the Coroner.”
In the statement, Sutton said influenza notifications peaked in September last year and influenza activity continued in the following months. Victoria also saw an increase in flu cases between November and December.
“Case numbers in the first few weeks of January 2019 have been higher than we typically see for this time of the year,” he said. “In Victoria, there have been 2,868 cases reported to the department since 1 Jan compared with 1,370 cases for the same time last year. Inter-seasonal influenza activity is not uncommon and other Australian states have also reported an increase in notifications over the last few months.”
Increased testing and awareness following the extremely significant flu year in 2017, increased overseas influenza activity and travellers returning from holiday breaks overseas are thought to be behind the spike in cases.
The flu vaccine is highly recommended for people in higher risk groups such as older people, pregnant women and those with pre-existing medical conditions that put them at risk of serious complications of the flu including heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes and impaired immunity.
Sutton originally revealed a child had died during a chat with Neil Mitchell on 3AW on Friday morning, but was unable to give further details. He confirmed the child passed away in Victoria and referred to them as “a young child”.
“I don’t want to give details because the issue is not known broadly,” he explained to Mitchell. “Anyone is vulnerable and even fit and healthy individuals can become significantly unwell.
“We take the privacy of individuals very seriously.”
He added it was “unusual” to have a death this early in the year.
“It is unusual for children to die, it’s a relatively rare thing,” Sutton continued. “But it’s a reminder to all of us that we’re not just protecting ourselves when we get the vaccine, that we’re helping to protect those who are at risk, including children.”
He explained that while people protect themselves in the winter months, the flu remains in the population for the entire year and March and April are the lowest months for the flu. Most people experience symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, muscle aches and pains and fever. The flu also leaves people out of action for a week and can be deadly.
Sutton added that the elderly population were particularly vulnerable, while pregnant women should also be immunised. He said people should take up the vaccine from mid-April.
“We’ve always emphasised the dangers of flu – that’s why we’ve always pushed the vaccination and other measures people can take to stay away from others when they’re unwell, to make sure they don’t go to work, to make sure they wash their hands, to cough into their elbow,” he said.
He also confirmed that more deaths could occur as a result of the flu.
“Statistically, there would be because out of thousands of cases of flu, there will always be a small percentage of people who get severely infected and tragically die,” he told Mitchell. “When we get big numbers over a summer season, yes, it’s more statistically likely.”