Respiratory illness outbreaks cause concern

All Queenslanders should take advantage of free flu vaccinations to stay well and out of hospital this winter, AMA Queensland President Dr Nick Yim has told 4BC. "We know that our health workforce is under pressure, our hospitals are under pressure. And ultimately, if we can prevent people becoming unwell and needing hospitalisation, this is the goal because we need our hospitals at full service."

Transcript: AMA Queensland President, Dr Nick Yim, 4BC Drive with Peter Gleeson, Monday 8 July 2024

Subject: Respiratory illness outbreaks

PETER GLEESON: Now, today is my first day back in the 4BC Drive hot seat. I had a couple of weeks off and I did have a wonderful time. I went away and went to Grafton and saw a few of my mates and saw my family and played a bit of golf, but also got a bit crook, which can happen this time of year. And when I went to my GP, he said, well, you've got something that's very, very popular at the moment, a bronchial infection. This is the season for it. And in fact illnesses like the flu are flying around right now at a shockingly high rate. So I want to invite an expert on who knows exactly what's going on to explain why you might have gotten that extra sniffle, cough or exhaustion in the last few weeks. Dr Nick Yim is the President of the AMA Queensland. He's on the line with me now. G'day, doctor.

DR NICK YIM: Good afternoon.

PETER GLEESON: Okay. Hit me. Are rates of the flu, COVID or other illnesses up this winter, or am I and my local GP just imagining it?

DR NICK YIM: No, you're absolutely right. What we are seeing is definitely the rates of respiratory viruses - that includes your influenza, COVID, RSV, even a bit of whooping cough - increasing. And what we have seen more recently is definitely an increase among our children because they've all been on school holidays and now they're all about to go back to school. So it's something a little bit worrying with the increased spread.

PETER GLEESON: Nick, why is this winter so particularly bad for these sorts of respiratory illnesses? I would imagine, and obviously, I'm not a doctor, but we protected ourselves pretty well during COVID and our immunity might have dropped off a bit. Is that the likelihood?

DR NICK YIM: I think with the waves or the viruses that's been circulating among our community, there's many reasons. But you're right, during COVID, our community, we did an amazing job. We got vaccinated. We socially distanced, protected ourselves with masks. We didn't go to work or school when we were unwell, and maybe there's elements of fatigue now. We know that vaccination rates are a little bit lower. At the same time, we know that vaccination is one of the best protectors from getting these respiratory illnesses or becoming very, very unwell from it. It's a reminder to the listeners of all the lessons we've learned through that pandemic. If you are unwell, please stay at home. And at the same time, please continue washing those hands.

PETER GLEESON: Queensland's Chief Health Officer, Dr John Gerrard, says he thinks the state could notch up 50 flu cases a day within a matter of weeks. Are you of that ilk, Dr Nick, are you thinking that it could be as high as that?

DR NICK YIM: I am concerned. We know that our health workforce is under pressure, our hospitals are under pressure. And ultimately, if we can prevent people becoming unwell and needing hospitalisation, this is the goal because we need our hospitals at full service.

PETER GLEESON: And are there any specific areas of concern? I would imagine daycares, certainly shopping centres, schools - are they areas that we should be particularly vigilant when it comes to keeping your hands clean and making sure you don't get exposed to these sorts of germs?

DR NICK YIM: Anywhere that's highly populated and where people can mingle. So that can include schools, it can include shopping centres, it can include public transport. But AMA Queensland has worked really hard with the Queensland Government to ensure that all Queenslanders over the age of six months can access the influenza vaccine for free. So for those listeners who haven't had the influenza vaccine, please catch up with your general practitioner or your pharmacist to get vaccinated. At the same time, for those of you who haven't had your COVID booster, please get boosted for COVID because that's also circulating around our community.

PETER GLEESON: I was going to ask you about COVID. I mean, obviously we've been through the horrors of 2020 and 2021 when it comes to COVID, but you don't hear as much about COVID anymore. Are people still susceptible to COVID in this state?

DR NICK YIM: Absolutely. We know that all viruses do mutate, they do change a little bit, which is the reason why we need to stay up to date with the vaccination. Fortunately, we're not seeing the numbers of people getting severely unwell with COVID entering the hospital system, but obviously people who are vulnerable - the very young, the elderly over age 65 and people with chronic illnesses - are medically at risk and they can become unwell, they can become hospitalised and might need the hospital services. So that's the reason why we try to vaccinate and protect.

PETER GLEESON: Dr Nick Yim, really appreciate your time.

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