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Flu outbreak claims 38 lives in Australia’s Queensland state

PERTH: Outbreak of flu in Australia’s Queensland state has so far claimed 38 lives despite vigorous vaccinations.

The state is in the grip of a flu outbreak. So far more than one million vaccinations have been deployed, yet confirmed cases of influenza have risen above 16,500. The numbers of confirmed cases are four times high than the five-year average.

At least 38 people have died from complications directly related to the disease, the youngest being a 20-year-old patient.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said while the flu season appears to have arrived early in Australia. She added that the spread in Queensland appears to be faster.

“Some states we’ve seen that then reduce [but] here in Queensland we’ve seen some cases continue to rise,” she said.

She added that it was still very early in the flu season to make any firm predictions about what’s going to happen.

Some 1,180 people have been hospitalised for the flu. As many as 110 patients have been admitted to intensive care units.

Queensland Health is now preparing stockpiles of antiviral medication Tamiflu to despatch to nursing homes if they report an outbreak.

Health Minister Steven Miles said rapid response teams would help prevent the further spread throughout vulnerable communities.

“It’s particularly important in an aged care setting where older people are more likely to die from the flu but also the flu can spread very rapidly in that sort of context,” he said.

About $3.5 million will be released to provide a further 5,000 hospital night stays in both public and private facilities to ease pressure on the system.

Dr Young said health authorities are still trying to figure out which strains were to cause for the spike this year.

“We won’t know until the end of the flu season when we get the advice from WHO (World Health Organisation) as to what viruses were circulating,” she said.

At this stage, we’re seeing mainly flu A circulating — the vast majority of notifications have been flu A although we’re starting to see a few flu B cases coming through.

“The best we can do each year is to take the advice from the World Health Organisation in terms of planning what vaccine is made available and then putting that in place.

“Part of the reason that we’ll have a worse flu season this year compared to last year is that very few people actually got flu last year so they will not have the immunity and they’ll be getting flu this year.”

Dr Young said people need to stay at home if they are sick and despite the alarming spread across the state, it is not too late to get vaccinated.

“You can still obtain the vaccine from GPs, also there are still a lot of pharmacies that have stocks of the vaccine,” she said.

“It does take up to two weeks [after vaccination] to get full immunity but we haven’t seen the peak of this season yet.

“If you’re sick, please stay at home — it’s better for you and your family and also better for the community that you’re not out there spreading the flu virus around.”