‘People need to take it seriously’: Queensland Children’s Hospital under pressure with spike in flu and respiratory cases

The emergency department at Queensland Children’s Hospital (QCH) in Brisbane is experiencing unprecedented demand, with a record number of patients last month.

Figures show that the hospital, which opened in November 2014, typically treats 205 patients in its emergency department (ED) each day.

But for seven days in the past fortnight, that number has risen to more than 300 children a day – a jump of around 30% – resulting in much longer wait times than usual.

“May 2022 was the busiest month on record for the Queensland Children’s Hospital Emergency Department,” a hospital spokesperson said.

“There was a 21% increase in ER presentations in May 2022, compared to April 2022.”

The spokesperson said the number of children presenting for respiratory distress, due to conditions including COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, increased by 78% in May compared to the previous month. .

Some of these children required hospitalization and “a very small number” required intensive care.

This year’s flu season started earlier than usual and appears to have peaked before the typical August peak, the spokesperson said.

Influenza notifications in 2022 by age group as of May 29.(Provided by: Queensland Health)

Brisbane-based infectious disease specialist Paul Griffin, an associate professor at the University of Queensland, said people were more susceptible to flu than in previous years after being shielded for the past two years by COVID restrictions -19.

“It looks like it’s going to be a very important season – we’re seeing a lot of presentations,” he said.

“There are consequences of … the flu which can also lead to admissions to the track.

“We know it dramatically increases your chances of even getting bacterial pneumonia in the weeks after the flu, so we see a lot of these things in our hospitals.

A man wearing a suit and glasses.
Dr Paul Griffin says people are more susceptible to the flu than in previous years after being protected for the past two years by COVID-19 restrictions.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Queensland Health’s latest data shows 12,143 flu cases recorded so far in 2022, more than double the five-year average for the first five months of the year.

Laboratory-confirmed influenza cases in Queensland, by week and month of onset 2017-22.  Chart shows early rise in 2022
Laboratory-confirmed influenza cases in Queensland, by week and month of onset, 2017-29 May 2022.(Provided by: Queensland Health)

Although all Queenslanders over the age of six months are entitled to free flu shots until June 30, only a quarter of the population had turned up for their seasonal vaccination.

“We really should have this much, much higher rate,” Dr. Griffin said.

“We know that the flu vaccine is both safe and effective and will go a long way in preventing people from getting infected, but more importantly, much like COVID, preventing them from getting really sick and…ending up in the hospital.”

At this stage, Queensland Health has yet to make flu vaccinations mandatory for visitors to aged care facilities, as it has with COVID-19 shots.

“I know the issue of vaccination mandates remains controversial, but I think the evidence is clear when it comes to such a cohort of susceptible people in a very high-risk environment,” Dr Griffin said.

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