A child has died after contracting influenza, amid one of the biggest summer seasons of flu the state has seen.
The number of cases reported in the state this summer were more than twice that of last year: since January 1, 2868 cases of flu have been reported in Victoria, compared with 1370 for the same period last year.
Other Australian states have also seen a spike in notifications during summer, with the highest increase in Queensland.
The Department of Health and Human Services has stressed inter-seasonal influenza activity is not uncommon and said factors influencing the rise in numbers may be the increase in testing and awareness after the extreme season in 2017.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton refused to reveal how old the child was, citing privacy reasons, and said the department did not know whether the child had been vaccinated for the flu last winter.
‘‘For the family involved, this is absolutely tragic,’’ Dr Sutton said on Friday morning.
‘‘It is a very tragic case but it is rare.
‘‘It does nonetheless highlight ... the importance of vaccination. If anything, this is a really clear illustration of its importance for flu, as well as any other vaccine-preventable disease.
"It's definitely one of the biggest summer seasons we've seen.
"It is unusual for children to die, it's a relatively rare thing. But it's a reminder to all of us we're not just protecting ourselves when we get the vaccine, we're helping to protect those who are at risk, including children."
Dr Sutton said health authorities did not yet know what strain of flu was circulating.
‘‘It is unusual. We normally have quiet months in March and April – they’re usually the quietest months of the year – so to be getting 200 to 300 cases a week is significant,’’ he said.
‘'But the real season is still ahead of us.’’
However, the spike in summer cases was not an indicator of a bumper flu season in winter, he said.
He warned people against getting the flu vaccine too early. In many of the flu cases this year, people have caught the illness while overseas before returning home.
‘‘It’s just one of those seasons,’’ Dr Sutton said.
‘‘It might be international travel, it might be that there’s greater awareness of flu and we’re seeing GPs doing more testing than ever before, and it might be related to last year’s low season where people have come into this season without as much immunity as they might have normally.’’
Dr Sutton advised parents to be alert to high fevers, muscle aches and pains, and joint aches and pains in their children.
The Metropolitan Remand Centre has also had a flu outbreak, with those affected advised to be kept in isolation until the infection passes.
"There have been confirmed cases of Influenza A at the Metropolitan Remand Centre," said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
"Some prisoner movement has been restricted to prevent the unnecessary spread of the virus."
"Medical staff will continue to monitor the health of the entire prison. "
It's understood there are only a couple of confirmed cases at the prison, but medical staff are continuing to assess other inmates with similar symptoms to determine if there are more.
The real flu season kicks off in July and August, but officially begins in April when the flu vaccine becomes available.
Dr Sutton said he hoped free flu vaccines would be available to Victorians over the age of 65 from March. He is confident there will not be another shortage of the flu vaccine as occurred in 2017 when Victoria saw nearly 50,000 confirmed flu cases.
‘‘We’ve got better modelling and forecasting and we’ve got a real buffer in terms of the flu vaccine that is on order. We also don’t want to be throwing out hundreds of thousands of vaccines at the end of a season, so it’s a fine balance. But we have ordered what I believe to be sufficient amounts for all age groups,’’ he said.
Dr Sutton said the higher number of cases could be related to international travel, greater reporting and more doctors conducting tests.
While anyone is vulnerable, the elderly, pregnant women and children are most at risk.
"We've always emphasised the dangers of flu – that's why we've always pushed the vaccination and other measures people can take to stay away from others when they're unwell, to make sure they don't go to work, to make sure they wash their hands, to cough into their elbow," Dr Sutton said.
Victoria provides free flu vaccine for children six months up to five years of age, which will be available from mid-April. It is recommended for all children.
Source: The Age< Go Back