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Grim prediction for common illness

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This year’s cold and flu season is already shaping up to be just as bad as 2023.

The early cold and flu season is bringing tens of thousands of confirmed cases across the country.

The latest NSW Health data shows almost 10,000 confirmed influenza cases so far this year, up about 60 per cent on this time last year; however, the agency says flu activity is low.

There have however been more Covid cases than flu in the state in 2024 and NSW Health says respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) activity is high at the moment.

There was a spike of about 1500 people presenting to NSW emergency departments each week in July last year, but as of mid-March, those emergency presentations have not begun to climb.

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The number of influenza cases is well above this time last year.

Children needing hospitalisation for bronchiolitis has spiked about a month earlier than normal though, with about 370 newborns to four-year-olds hospitalised in NSW this week.

Confirmed flu cases in Victoria are up by a similar margin compared with last year as well.

Victorian health services have recorded 5200 flu cases so far this year, 1300 more than this time last year.

RSV cases in Victoria are also more than double this time last year.

Coming out of Covid pandemic restrictions, influenza cases rose sharply in 2023.

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Instances of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are up in the eastern states, particularly in Victoria. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Influenza struck at least 300,000 Australians last year.

Epidemiologist Adrian Esterman told NCA NewsWire this week it was difficult to predict whether the cold and flu season illnesses had peaked early or if the country was in for a remarkably infectious winter.

In Queensland there has been more than 6200 influenza cases this year, well ahead of the mean for this time each year since 2019 – though that obviously includes periods of pandemic restrictions.

Forecasts based on medicine sales, vaccine rates and cold and flu reports published this week predict the 2024 cold and flu season to be as bad as if not worse than 2023.

Tracking cold and flu data is difficult, but “sentinel” general practices and registered nurses somewhat fill the gap. These medical professional are part of a network that reports influenza-like illnesses.

In Western Australia, influenza-like illnesses are on par with 2023 and below the high levels recorded in 2019.

RSV numbers are in the traditional springtime trough in the western state.

Across the border in the Northern Territory, RSV numbers are climbing in East Arnhem land and Katherine.

In Tasmania, influenza-like illnesses are declining but remain at a moderate level. Information from Tasmania’s Department of Health says influenza and RSV activity are at inter-seasonal levels.

Influenza is not a notifiable disease in South Australian and data is not readily available. ACT influenza data is not readily available either.