THE Gold Coast’s health services are overrun as two strains of influenza run rampant, causing the highest number of cases ever seen in the city.
The local flu epidemic joins record flu figures around the country with doctors warning that children and teenagers aged between 10 and 19 have been hit the hardest on the Coast.
They have urged parents to have their youngsters vaccinated to prevent further spread of the B flu strain.
According to statistics released by Gold Coast Hospital Health Services (HHS), it has received 520 notifications in a week — nearly 20 per cent higher than the city’s weekly record of 450 cases.
“These are the highest number of influenza cases we have seen on the Gold Coast,” Dr Paul Van Buynder, public health specialist for Gold Coast HHS and chairman of the Immunisation Coalition, said.
“The numbers are high this year because we have two influenza strains circulating. The A(H3N2) strain is affecting older people and putting them in hospital.
“The other — a B strain — is affecting young children and it’s spreading so fast because most kids are unvaccinated,” he said. “We’re seeing the highest rates of the disease among 10-19 year-olds but it’s not too late for youth in this age group to vaccinate.”
Dr Van Buynder urged locals to prevent the flu spreading by staying away from school and work if they were sick, and for people to wash their hands as often as they could.
“If you have flu, please see your GP for treatment, and don’t go to the emergency department of your local hospital,” he said.
Gold Coast HHS statistics show that between January 1 and August 13 this year, they had 2385 influenza notifications, with 212 of those cases requiring hospitalisation.
There were 520 confirmed flu cases on the Gold Coast in the week up to August 13, which is an increase on the 502 confirmed cases the previous week.
During the peak of past influenza seasons, Gold Coast HHS had 450 notifications a week.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland president Dr Bill Boyd said the flu season could still have many weeks to run and vaccination offered the best line of defence.
He said the vaccine took two to three weeks to reach maximum effectiveness and it was free for the over-65s, pregnant women and patients with specific medical conditions, including cardiac disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory conditions.
He said most people would recover from flu after a few days, but vulnerable patients could become seriously ill and require hospitalisation.
Dr Boyd said the total number of flu cases in the state would far exceed the 14,455 laboratory-confirmed cases recorded by Queensland Health last week.
He urged the public to follow the advice of Health Minister Cameron Dick and to avoid attending hospital emergency departments unless absolutely necessary.
“EDs are busy at the best of times and right now, hospital doctors and their health service colleagues are fully stretched,” Dr Boyd said.
“If you have a medical problem, your first course of action should always be to consult your family doctor. Emergency departments are for emergencies only.”
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