Children 'super spreaders' of influenza virus

Children 'super spreaders' of influenza virus


Children have become "super spreaders" of the flu, a leading respiratory expert says – bolstering the case for more free influenza vaccines.

The death toll from Victoria's horror flu season has now reached 116 in Victoria's aged care facilities.

There have also been numerous reports of the infection killing young and otherwise healthy people, including eight-year-old Melbourne girl Rosie Andersen and Bacchus Marsh father Ben Ihlow​.

More than a third of people admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital with the flu in the past six months were under 60.

Associate Professor Louis Irving, head of respiratory medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said this year was "by far" the worst flu season he had ever experienced.

"I think this is telling us that we can't ignore influenza," he said.

Professor Irving said a cohort of unvaccinated people had been contributing to the spread of the illness, with children in particular "super spreaders".

"The reason they are super spreaders is that they shed more viral particles per person that anyone else," he said.

"And they are also out and about."

Professor Irving said there was a strong case for Australia's flu vaccine program to be expanded to young people.

It is currently available for free for only certain groups who are at high risk from influenza and its complications, including pregnant women, people aged over 65 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of particular ages.

"In the UK they have a universal vaccine program for children and they have shown an overall cost effectiveness, through reducing the burden just not on children but also on the carers, via absenteeism from work etcetera," Professor Irving said.

"I think it will be something we consider in Australia."

A average of 3900 people visited Victorian emergency every day in August – a record. A key problem has been the ineffectiveness of this year's vaccine against many influenza cases.

"We have had over 14,000 notifications of influenza this year in Victoria – that is more than double what we had last year," Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said on Monday.

"We are being advised that the flu season may have peaked, but we'd like to see some greater evidence of that because, certainly, the demand on our health system continues."

Ms Hennessy rejected calls for the state to fund a free flu vaccine for children, but said discussions with the federal government about expanding is immunisation program had been promising.

"At the moment all indications from the Commonwealth have been very, very good," she said.

Ms Hennessy instead pledged $115 million to help Victoria's public hospitals recover from the influx of ill flu patients. Some "non-urgent" elective surgeries have been cancelled.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had asked Australia's chief medical officer to examine "whether there are ways to strengthen the National Immunisation Program, including holding talks with manufacturers on new and strengthened vaccines".

Australians are being encouraged to get a flu vaccine.

Source: The Age

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