Virus soup: The five things making Sydney sick


“It’s particularly important in aged care to keep those boosters up. People who have been immunised have a baseline level of immunity, and we’re seeing a decrease in severe disease and mortality even in people who haven’t been boosted. But you don’t want to get COVID if you’re ageing.”

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NSW Health has noted the “increasing prevalence” of the JN.1 Omicron variant sub-lineages KP2 – nicknamed FLiRT due to its spike protein mutations – KP3, and KW.1.1. The new variants account for more than 60 per cent of COVID cases in the state, up from roughly 50 per cent a fortnight ago.

“The emergence of COVID-19 variants has been associated with new waves of COVID-19 infections, so we continue to closely monitor these trends,” NSW Health said on Thursday.

Vaccine advisory group ATAGI recently updated its guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination, meaning younger adults can receive an additional dose every year after previously not being recommended to receive extra shots. A vaccine every six months is recommended for higher-risk groups.

Influenza

The flu season has begun. Rates of influenza have started to climb across all age groups, particularly among children aged 3 and 4 years. NSW Health said the rise in cases and emergency department presentations for influenza-like illnesses would likely “rapidly increase over the next six to eight weeks”, and that influenza activity would “quickly reach high levels”.

More people are going to hospital for COVID and influenza, as the NSW flu season starts to accelerate.

More people are going to hospital for COVID and influenza, as the NSW flu season starts to accelerate.Credit: NSW Health

Symptoms of influenza – a serious, contagious respiratory illness – can include fever, headache, aching muscles, tiredness and a dry, chesty cough. The best way to prevent flu is via a flu vaccine.

Anyone over the age of six months can receive a flu shot.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes respiratory infections, mostly in young children, and it has been circulating at higher rates. Most infections in NSW happen in late autumn or winter.

NSW Health said the most recent data showed the virus continued to show a high level of activity, but there had been some decline in the youngest children.

“Rates of RSV notifications are decreasing in children under 2 years old. Rates continue to be high for children 2 to 4 years of age.”

Symptoms include a cough, runny nose, fever, and difficulty breathing. Babies are more likely to get breathing problems, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis, from RSV.

Babies under 12 months who are at the highest risk of illness from illness can get an RSV vaccine, while vulnerable people over 60 years of age may be eligible for a vaccine, but it is not free.

Pneumonia

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NSW Health says there have been “unseasonably high” presentations to emergency departments for children and young adults with pneumonia, particularly children aged 5 to 16 years.

“These trends in emergency department presentations appear to be stabilising for children aged 0 to 16 years but continue to increase for young adults aged 17 to 34 years,” Thursday’s report said.

Doctors have previously said the state’s high rates of pneumonia among school-aged children were likely caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. The bacterium spreads in crowded environments, causing a persistent cough and sometimes wheezing, and damages the lining of the lungs, throat and windpipe. Epidemics typically occur every three to five years, and the last epidemic in NSW was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Cunningham said: “Influenza will predispose people to secondary pneumonia, mainly pneumococcal pneumonia, and we do recommend people over the age of 65 have pneumococcal immunisation.

“People over 65 are facing [vaccinations for] influenza, pneumococcal, RSV, and also shingles. We’re getting into the stage of having multiple vaccines for ageing people as well as young people.”

Whooping cough

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by a bacterial infection. The infection causes a long coughing illness, which can be life-threatening for babies.

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Diagnoses, which plummeted during the pandemic, surged in school-aged children over the summer holiday period. NSW Heath said cases were expected to continue to increase.

“The highest rates of pertussis notifications are observed in children 5 to 14 years. The number of notifications in this age group was stable.”

Vaccination reduces the risk of infection and severe disease. School-age children, pregnant women, those in close contact with a newborn infant, and people aged 65 and older are encouraged to stay up to date with their whooping cough vaccinations.

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