Health authorities have urged parents to book young children in for flu shots as Australia braces for a triple surge of influenza, Covid and the common cold.
New South Wales chief health officer Kerry Chant warned residents that infection rates among children were piling up as influenza and Covid team up to create a dual infection dubbed “flurona”.
The state has been hit with an earlier than expected flu season.
Dr Chant said parents should be aware that the flu is a “serious illness” for children under five and in some instances can lead to death.
“Influenza is actually a reasonably severe disease in young children,” she said.
So far this year, eight children have been rushed to hospital with influenza-like symptoms compared to an average of no admissions in the age group during the same months from 2017 to 2019.
In 2017 and 2018 four children, all aged under five, died from the flu in NSW.
The recent surge has seen doctors across the country call for flu vaccines to be rolled out in state schools as children, who are being hit with flurona, continue to end up in hospital.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Queensland chair Dr Bruce Willett said the flu could kill kids.
“We can’t be complacent and think that just because coronavirus has not been hard on kids that the dual infection won’t come with serious health problems,” he said.
“Flurona is the unknown, but what we do know is that the flu vaccine is not free for children over five and that can be a deterrent to getting a protection jab.”
The community’s low immunity is the result of closed international borders and the country’s low influenza vaccination rate, with many young children having next to no immunity against the virus.
Currently only three per cent of children under five have been vaccinated against the flu.
Data reveals that teenagers and people in their 20s are the driving forces behind increasing numbers.
More than 35 residents in Queensland have been co-infected with the viruses, with 14 people admitted to hospital since January this year.
There were 1024 new influenza cases reported in NSW in the last week of April, up from 478 cases the previous week.
A Victorian woman – who was in her 90s and unvaccinated – was confirmed as the state’s first flurona death this week.
She died in January and was one of six people in the state to contract both diseases at the same time.
Victoria health urged people to make sure all of their jabs were up to date ahead of flu season.
“By getting vaccinated against both highly contagious infections, you’re not only protecting yourself and those around you, but you’re also helping to ease pressure on our health system,” a spokesman said.