The state's chief health officer has issued an influenza warning for parents of school-aged children and teenagers, as admissions to emergency departments rise.
NSW Health Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the latest NSW data showed a 37 per cent increase in ED presentations from people with influenza-like illnesses and a 30 per cent increase in admissions to hospital in the week to July 2, compared to the previous week.
She said children under 16 represented more than half these ED presentations, and two out of five of the hospital admissions, showing that children are being disproportionately affected by influenza this year.
Parents of children aged five to 16 years old are being urged to book their child in for a flu vaccine with their GP or local pharmacist these school holidays, amid concerns of rising influenza rates and hospitalisations among children and teenagers.
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"In recent weeks we have seen influenza cases rising fastest among very young children as well as those aged five to 16 years, with these two age groups often accounting for around half of all flu cases diagnosed in NSW each week," she said.
"Sadly, our children's hospitals are seeing an increasing number of these children being admitted for care and some of these patients are seriously unwell."
She said 16 children had been admitted to intensive care with life-threatening complications from influenza since May, at Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, The Children's Hospital at Westmead and John Hunter Hospital.
These complications included serious heart, brain, and muscle-related complications.
In the Illawarra, flu cases have continued to rise each month, with the number of reported cases in June almost double the May total.
In the first days of July, there have already been dozens of cases reported.
To reduce the risk of serious complications, Dr Chant has urged parents to book in their children for a flu shot before the end of the school holidays.
"The very best thing parents can do to keep their kids well this winter, and to reduce the risk of them being hospitalised due to influenza, is to ensure their children receive a flu vaccine if they haven't yet," she said.
Immunisation data shows just over one in five NSW children under five have been vaccinated for influenza this year, and only 12.1 per cent of five to 15-year-olds had a flu shot.
People considered to be at higher risk of severe illness from influenza are eligible for a free flu vaccine, including:
- Children aged six months to under five years
- People aged 65 and over
- Aboriginal people from six months of age
- Pregnant women
- Those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, obesity, severe asthma, kidney, heart, lung or liver disease.