‘Healthy’ teenager among 10 people dead from influenza outbreak in SA this year

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Ten people have died from the flu in South Australia already this year, including a teenager as young as 15 who had no pre-existing conditions.

Key points:

  • More than 10,000 influenza cases have been reported in SA so far in 2019
  • SA Health’s Paddy Phillips says the state hasn’t seen this early peak before
  • He said there was no longer a shortage of vaccinations available

Figures published by SA Health have shown that as of three days ago, 10 deaths had been reported to authorities and those who died were aged between 15 and 92.

There have been 10,636 cases reported so far in 2019, up from just 1,316 cases for the same period last year, an eight-fold increase in the number of infections.

SA Health chief medical officer Paddy Phillips said one case was a 15-year-old who, as he understood, did not have any pre-existing health conditions.

“We know of a 15-year-old who was a healthy, young teenager who died from influenza, there have been nine other deaths so far this year, aged from 62-92,” he said.

“She came down with influenza very quickly and succumbed very quickly.

“That is a real message to the community to please go out and get a flu shot.”

Some Adelaide doctors and pharmacists have previously complained they did not get adequate supplies of the flu shot to give free vaccines to vulnerable people and there was a temporary shortage of vaccines for staff at the Flinders Medical Centre.

What really spreads the flu?

What really spreads the flu?

Sneezes, hands or children. When it comes to flu, everybody has their own avoidance tactics.

But Professor Phillips said there was no longer a restriction to the supply of vaccines.

“While there were some shortages due to unprecedented demand earlier in the month of April, people should know that so far this year, in the first five weeks of the program we’ve distributed 355,000 doses of the flu vaccine to immunisation providers,” he said.

“At the moment there is no restriction of supply and so the community can be reassured that should they want to attend their GP or pharmacy or other immunisation provider, that they can get access to the flu vaccine.”

The figures have shown of the 10,636 reported cases, 6,008 were in females and 4,628 in males, with 96 per cent of cases from influenza A.

Reported cases “the tip of an iceberg”

Professor Phillips encouraged people to visit their GP, pharmacy or immunisation provider, highlighting the number reported to SA Health was only the “tip of an iceberg”.

SA chief medical officer Paddy Phillips

“So far this year we’ve seen unprecedented numbers of influenza cases as well,” he said.

“It’s important to realise this is the tip of an iceberg … people get ill with the flu, but don’t see a doctor and don’t get tested.

“We know that this is an indicator of the number of cases out in the community, but it’s not the total number and the same will apply to deaths.”

Professor Phillips said there were 12 deaths from influenza in South Australia reported in 2018 and 124 during a horror year in 2017.

But with the vaccine supplies now readily available through the national immunisation program, he was hopeful numbers would begin to drop.

“We are seeing a very unusual year with early and high numbers of influenza … we haven’t seen this early peak before,” he said.

“We are optimistic that the arrival of the immunisation program … will help us to reduce any further cases and the impact those cases might have.”

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