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The five things making
Sydney sick this Winter

Influenza and COVID-19 are spreading rapidly in NSW, triggering a spike in people visiting emergency departments this flu season.

The latest NSW Health data, showed a 40 per cent jump in COVID cases and a 30 per cent increase in influenza cases – both accompanied by a rise in emergency department presentations .

Rates of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a potentially serious illness that can cause pneumonia in children, increased by 3 per cent in the same period. ‘‘ This winter, it is anticipated that there will be a large number of people infected with COVID-19 , influenza and/or RSV,’’ NSW Health said.

Professor Tony Cunningham, an infectious diseases physician with the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, said respiratory illnesses spread in winter were driven by people congregating in crowded indoor spaces and by young children.

‘‘ This is what we expect with RSV and flu . The interesting thing is COVID because COVID is not yet seasonal. The important thing is for people to keep the vaccines up to date.’’



NSW Health said the rates of COVID-19 infections were rising across all age groups, with about 200 cases reported each day in the week to 7 July. However, there was recently a massive jump in cases detected among elderly people aged 90 and older.

Cunningham said people aged 75 and older were advised to get a COVID booster shot every six months, and people between 65 and 75 should get a shot every six to 12 months.

‘‘ It’s particularly important in aged care to keep boosters up. 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.’’


Rates of influenza have started to climb across all age groups, particularly children aged three and four.

NSW Health said the rise in cases and emergency department presentations for influenza-like illnesses would probably ‘‘ rapidly increase over the next six to eight weeks’’ , and that influenza activity would ‘‘ quickly reach high levels’’ .


RSV causes respiratory infections, mostly in young children and has been circulating at higher rates.

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.’’

NSW and Queensland recently announced free RSV vaccines for infants, addressing a surge in cases. NSW’s $3.1 million program targets premature, Aboriginal, and high-risk infants. Both states will use nirsevimab (sold as Beyfortus) to reduce hospitalisations. Last year, 127,944 RSV cases were reported nationwide, highlighting the urgency. 


NSW Health says there have been ‘‘ unseasonably high’ ’ presentations to emergency departments for children and young adults with pneumonia, particularly children.

‘‘ These trends ... continue to increase for young adults aged 17 to 34 years,’’ the report said.


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

Diagnoses, which plummeted during the pandemic, surged in school-aged children over the summer holiday period, and case numbers were expected to rise.

Copyright © 2024 The Sydney Morning Herald

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