Following the news that a young child has died of influenza in Sydney, parents are being urged to make sure they take their children to get their flu jabs.
New South Wales Health confirmed that the unidentified child, aged between six months and five years, passed away after contracting influenza, and said another 18 had also been rushed to hospital in a serious condition.
Of the 19 children who were admitted to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead between April 3 and July 8 this year, 17 were struck down by the more serious A strain (H1N1) of the virus. However just two of the children had been fully vaccinated against the flu.
“We know that 15 of the children were eligible for the free flu vaccine but only two of them had been fully vaccinated against flu,” said Dr Kerry Chant, NSW Chief Health Officer, “This is an important reminder to parents who have not yet vaccinated their children that influenza can be life-threatening and it’s not too late to vaccinate.
“Flu case numbers across the state are starting to rise and influenza A (H1N1), which mostly strikes children and young adults, is the key strain circulating in the community.
“Sadly, we have received the first report this year a child has died from influenza A.”
Recent research, published in the Influenza Surveillance Weekly Report, showed that there had been a spike of cases over the last month with 256 cases of the virus recorded last week, up 78 cases from the previous week.
Dr Chant said almost all of the 256 confirmed flu cases contracted influenza A (H1N1), which caused the 2009 pandemic. She said: “There are plentiful supplies of the free flu vaccination for under-fives, just call ahead to your GP to check they have it in stock or give them time to order more vaccines.”
The official ‘flu season’ is set to begin in two weeks and, following last year’s deadly flu outbreak, Australians are being urged to protect themselves. The killer season in 2017 claimed numerous lives and more than 71,000 people became infected with influenza.
However a top doctor recently sparked a debate when he labelled the vaccine as “ineffective”, claiming it only reduced the rate of laboratory confirmed influenza by no more than two per cent. Speaking to Starts at 60, Dr Del Mar explained other preventative measures could be just as effective as the vaccine.
“Probably the more effective things to do than the vaccine is physical barriers,” he said. “That means hand washing and perhaps wearing a mask if you want to avoid catching an infection and certainly avoiding crowds and people who might be infected.
“Really, it’s quite difficult for individuals to do single-handed, but it’s really a plea for a greater discussion amongst public health experts.”
Flu vaccinations are currently free for pregnant women and those over 65, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months to five years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and older, and people aged six months and over with medical conditions that mean they have a higher risk of getting serious disease, such as diabetes, severe asthma, lung or heart disease).
Several state and territory governments also offer free flu jabs to children between six months and five years old, including New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT.