Influenza cases among young people and children in Australia has risen this year, but experts say don't panic

Flu cases in children on the rise but 'don't panic' and get the jab say experts

AUSTRALIA is seeing a worrying increase in the number of influenza cases among young people and children, but experts say it is typical for the season and there is no need panic.

Government data reveals there has been an increase in influenza-like-illnesses in the community since March 2022.

To date, 10,599 laboratory-confirmed influenza notifications have been made to the National Notifiable Diseases System (NNDSS). 153 people have been admitted to hospital for influenza, including seven ICU admissions.

No influenza-associated deaths have been notified to the NNDSS.

The majority of influenza cases are people aged 15-24 years and children under 10, prompting questions and fears about why young people and children are more susceptible to this potentially deadly virus this year.

Australian Medial Association (AMA) vice president Dr Chris Moy said it did look as though the flu season was "a bit weird this year" because there were peaks in the younger age groups.

"Normally it's a bit more even, or possibly a bit more in the old age group. So we don't know why this is happening," Dr Moy said

He said it's possible the peak was because young people were more likely to be out in the community socialising, especially as restrictions had eased, as opposed to older people who were still hunkered down after the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said although the flu was affecting younger people and children more this year, the overall numbers weren't as high as they were in the pre-COVID years - about 12 per cent - so people shouldn't panic.

"The actual numbers at the moment are tracking a little bit behind the averages for those few years beforehand, which would fit with what has happened overseas,' Dr Moy said.

Deputy director WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza Professor Ian Barr said low levels of vaccination for influenza was a factor.

"Children are always acceptable to influenza and this year's no exception," he said.

"Certainly we've seen reduction or very low levels of vaccination this year. And in last year, 2021, there's also low levels of vaccination in that age."

Mr Barr said one of the strains of influenza that was circulating was one that usually had a higher transmission rate in younger people.

He said the opening of international borders and the return back to school was a "major factor" contributing to influenza cases in the country.

"A lot of those [influenza cases] seem to be coming from overseas," Mr Barr said.

"Once they're here they're spread very easily and now that schools are open and masks are not being worn, and there's full contact with students, then these viruses get around very quickly.

"Kids are big transmitters of influenza."

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Mr Barr said it wasn't unusual to see hospitalisations and ICU admissions for influenza cases.

"Whenever we have big influenza outbreaks, then the hospitalisation numbers go up. So it's all directly related," he said.

"We know that some people are more affected by influenza than others. And often we'll have children in hospital or in ICU. And also the elderly are usually over-represented in those hospitalisation cases."

Mr Barr said he was worried for all people with influenza that had underlying disease and co-morbidities.

The professor said the best way to protect yourself and your children against the flu was to get vaccinated.

"People aged six months and older can be vaccinated against influenza," Mr Barr said.

Dr Moy said the real concern was overwhelming hospitals this year with COVID-19 and influenza cases, on top of the usual conditions, and recommended everyone get vaccinated for influenza.

"We very strongly encourage flu shots for pretty much everybody. I can't emphasise it enough," he said.

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