At least 25 Queenslanders have died from flu-induced complications so far this year, a figure more than twice the total influenza deaths in the Australian state for all of 2018, Queensland Health reported.
The health department's latest weekly influenza surveillance report reveals almost 11,000 people have tested positive for the virus across Queensland, with 850 admitted to hospitals and 78 treated in intensive care. The state’s number of confirmed influenza cases is now over three times its May average.
Jeannette Young, Queensland’s chief health officer, said that while the majority of deaths belonged to those aged 65 and above, a portion involved otherwise healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 40. The number of sick people is expected to increase, she added, with the state’s peak flu season typically running from July to October.
"People who are perfectly fit and healthy can also develop complications. It’s really important that people go out now and get vaccinated against the flu. It takes two weeks before you get immunity,” she told the Brisbane Times. “We’re not yet into the flu season, but we expect that we will shortly arrive.”
Health experts are blaming the high number of cases on a lack of community immunity — when enough people in a community are immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely — in the wake of a low flu season last year. The simultaneous circulation of two different influenza A viruses has also been linked to the increase in numbers this year.
"One [strain is] more likely to affect children and young adults and the other affects old people,” Griffith University immunization expert Paul Van Buynder told The Courier-Mail. “But they're both around, so everybody's going to be impacted.”
An unprecedented flu season has been witnessed nationwide. Alongside high figures in Queensland, both South Australia and New South Wales have seen upwards of 10,000 infections. And Australia has seen a record number of cases with over 50,000 confirmed flu cases as of May 20 — compared with 58,848 in all of 2018.
Commonwealth-funded vaccinations are currently available for those most at risk of infection — including all pregnant women, those over 65 years of age, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people above six months of age, and individuals with complex medical conditions.
All other Queenslanders have been urged to purchase the flu vaccination from their GP or immunization provider.