Influenza is spreading rapidly among Victorian children, sparking an up to 500 per cent increase in flu cases detected in the Royal Children’s Hospital lab in the last two weeks alone.
After two years of being all but eradicated in Australia, paediatricians say the flu is back with a vengeance and posing a new danger to children who have not been exposed to the disease or have waning immunity.
Royal Children’s Hospital chief of medicine Tom Connell said that in the last fortnight 120 cases of influenza had been detected at the health service, a “400 to 500” per cent increase on the previous weeks and up from just 16 cases for the entire month of March.
Flu cases typically peak in July and August, fuelling concerns Victoria is experiencing an unusually early rise in cases, with the peak in infections still months away.
“I’m concerned because, as a pediatrician, I think the surge increase is going to continue,” Connell said.
“In the vast majority of flu cases, it will be a relatively mild illness. But there’s still about 1 to 2 per cent of children who require medical care in hospital. Some of those children will become particularly unwell due to complications of influenza, the most significant of which will be on the heart and the brain. ”
Connell said several children had already been hospitalized with the flu in Melbourne.
However, he warned it was not only influenza driving up presentations in the hospital’s already strained emergency department, with doctors also treating soaring numbers of children with other respiratory viruses, including rhinovirus, parainfluenza, coronavirus, enteroviruses, as well as a surge in cases of gastro.