NSW Health has issued a pressing call to parents, urging them to prioritize getting their children and teenagers vaccinated against the flu.
The state has witnessed a worrying surge in influenza cases and subsequent hospitalisations among the younger population, prompting health officials to take action during the school holidays.
Dr Kerry Chant, the Chief Health Officer of NSW Health, shared alarming statistics about the rise in influenza-related emergency department visits and hospital admissions.
In just one week leading up to July 2nd, she said, there was a staggering 37% increase in emergency department presentations associated with influenza-like illness. Hospital admissions also rose by 30% during the same period.
“Disturbingly, children aged under 16 accounted for 54% of all influenza-related visits to emergency departments and approximately 40% of hospital admissions,” Dr Chant said.
The gravity of the situation is further underscored by the 16 children who have already been admitted to intensive care units at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and John Hunter Hospital due to life-threatening complications arising from influenza. These complications include severe impacts on the heart, brain, and muscles.
Dr Chant revealed that in recent weeks, influenza has spread particularly quickly among very young children as well as those aged five to 16 years, making them the most affected age groups in the state. It is not uncommon for these two groups to account for about half of all diagnosed flu cases on a weekly basis in NSW.
To combat the influenza surge and protect children, parents are strongly encouraged to ensure their children receive a flu vaccine if they have not done so already. The flu vaccine is a vital preventive measure that can significantly reduce the chances of hospitalisation.
In addition to children aged five to 16 years, certain individuals at high risk of severe illness from influenza are eligible for a free flu vaccine. These groups include children aged six months to under five years, people aged 65 and over, Aboriginal people from six months of age, pregnant women, and those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, obesity, severe asthma, kidney, heart, lung, or liver disease.
To safeguard against both the flu and COVID-19, NSW Health emphasizes the importance of adhering to essential preventative measures. These include:
- staying up to date with recommended flu and COVID-19 vaccinations
- staying home when experiencing cold or flu symptoms
- practicing frequent handwashing and sanitisation
- wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces
- opting for outdoor gatherings or well-ventilated areas, and
- seeking guidance from healthcare providers regarding vulnerability to severe illness from COVID-19 or influenza.
When interacting with those at higher risk of severe illness, it is vital to avoid close contact if experiencing cold or flu symptoms or having tested positive for COVID-19 or influenza. It is also advisable to take a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 before visiting vulnerable loved ones.
Influenza surge threatens the well-being of children and teenagers, it is crucial for parents to act swiftly and book their child in for a flu vaccine with their GP or local pharmacist. By doing so, they can effectively safeguard their children’s health and mitigate the risk of hospitalization due to influenza-related complications.
For more information on influenza and the necessary precautions, the NSW Government website can be accessed. Additionally, healthdirect Australia offers expert health advice 24/7 to NSW residents at 1800 022 222.