Child's death from influenza sparks NSW flu warning

What goes into the flu vaccine?

Authorities hope a new and improved vaccine, plus two new 'super vaccines', will help Australia avoid a repeat of last year's record flu season.

One child has died from influenza - and another 18 admitted to a Sydney hospital - in the past three months, prompting NSW health authorities to warn parents of the dangers of not vaccinating their children.

The child, who was under 5 years of age, and 13 of the other infected children, had not been fully vaccinated against the flu.

"This is the first child reported to have died from influenza in NSW this year," the state's Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.

An unvaccinated child has died from the flu in NSW.
An unvaccinated child has died from the flu in NSW. Photo: Michele Mossop

"This is an important reminder to parents who have not yet vaccinated their children that influenza can be life-threatening and it’s not too late to vaccinate."

The 19 children had been admitted to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead between April 3 and July 8 this year. Their ages range from one month to seven years.

Seventeen of them contracted influenza A (H1N1), which authorities say is emerging as the predominant strain this year.

While child vaccination rates in NSW have climbed to record levels, some parents in the anti-vaccination heartlands, which include some of Sydney's wealthier areas, are still resisting, Fairfax Media has reported.

Northern NSW had the lowest vaccination rates at all three milestones, with 87.8 per cent of one-year-olds fully vaccinated, close to 9 per cent lower than the local health district with the highest rates, Far West Local Health District.

There were 256 confirmed flu cases for the week ending July 8, which is markedly less than the 6449 cases reported in the same week in 2017, but higher than the previous week’s tally of 178, according to the latest surveillance figures.


"Almost all of the 256 confirmed flu cases contracted influenza A (H1N1) ... which first emerged as pandemic influenza in 2009," Dr Chant said.

"While confirmed cases represent only a proportion of influenza activity in the community, this is an indication that the start of the flu season will occur later this year."

Australia experienced one of the worst flu seasons last year since 2009 and in NSW more than 650 people died from complications associated with flu, with many more hospitalised.

If you can, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue before you sneeze.
If you can, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue before you sneeze. Photo: Supplied

Dr Chant said the NSW Government was spending $22.75 million on state-wide immunisation programs to minimise the spread of flu this season.

This included $3.5 million for free flu shots to children up to five years of age and a $1.75 million immunisation and influenza prevention campaign.

"It’s not too late to vaccinate and we’re encouraging everyone, particularly pregnant women and the parents of young children, to arrange the flu shot before the season starts," she said.

"The free flu shots for children under five will save parents up to $50 per child (as two doses are required in the first year of vaccination)."

While vaccination is the best protection against the flu, she said everyone could help prevent the spread of the flu by coughing and sneezing into their elbow, cleaning their hands, and staying home when they're sick.