The Queensland Children’s Hospital (QCH) emergency department in Brisbane is experiencing unprecedented demand, seeing record numbers of patients last month.
- This year’s flu season started earlier than usual and appears to be peaking ahead of the typical August climax
- People are more susceptible to the flu than in previous years after being protected for the past two years by COVID-19 restrictions
- Only a quarter of the Queensland population eligible for free flu shots until until June 30 had fronted to get the seasonal vaccination
Figures show the hospital, which opened in November 2014, typically treats 205 patients in its emergency department (ED) every day.
But for seven days during the past fortnight, that rose to more than 300 children per day – a jump of about 30 per cent – 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 spokesman said.
“There has been a 21 per cent increase in ED presentations in May 2022, compared to April 2022.”
The spokesman said the number of children presenting for respiratory distress, due to conditions such as COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, spiked 78 per cent in May compared to the previous month.
Some of those children required admission to hospital and “a very small number” needed intensive care.
This year’s flu season started earlier than usual and appeared to be peaking ahead of the typical August climax, the spokesman said.
Brisbane-based infectious diseases specialist Paul Griffin, an associate professor at the University of Queensland, said people were more susceptible to the flu than in previous years after being protected for the past two years by COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s looking like it’s going to be a very significant season — we’re seeing a lot of presentations,” he said.
“There are consequences of … influenza that can subsequently lead to admissions down the track as well.
“We know it greatly increases your chance of getting even bacterial pneumonia in the weeks following influenza, so we are seeing a lot of those things in our hospitals.
The latest Queensland Health data show 12,143 recorded cases of influenza so far in 2022 – more than twice the five-year average for the first five months of the year.
Although all Queenslanders aged more than six months are eligible for free flu shots until June 30, only a quarter of the population had fronted for their seasonal vaccination.
“We really should have that rate much, much higher,” Dr Griffin said.
“We know the flu vaccine is both safe and effective and will go a very long way to preventing people getting infected, but most importantly, a little bit like COVID, stop them getting really sick and … ending up in hospital.”
At this stage, Queensland Health is yet to mandate flu vaccinations for visitors to aged care facilities as it has with COVID-19 shots.
“I know that the issue of vaccine mandates remains controversial, but I think the evidence is clear with respect to such a susceptible cohort of people in a very high-risk environment,” Dr Griffin said.
Dr Griffin said he would also like to see Queenslanders voluntarily wearing masks in high-risk settings.
“I’d still very much encourage the use of masks if you’re going anywhere where there’s the prospect of prolonged indoor close contact or there’s lots of people,” he said.
“We know, on balance at the moment, the chances are very likely that there’ll be people with COVID and the flu anywhere where there’s a large number of people.”