A spike in respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and asthma are causing congestion in Queensland’s emergency departments, which are already being taxed by a record flu season.
Department of Health data shows between January 1 and August 31 this year, there were 116,855 ED presentations for respiratory illnesses, an almost 25 per cent increase on the same period in 2018.
The most common conditions include: pneumonia (14,870); asthma (10,323); chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (9,752); tonsillitis (8,623); and bronchitis (3,674).
In the same period in 2018, there were 93,697 presentations.
Queensland Children’s Hospital Deputy Director of Emergency Dr Geoffrey Pearce said EDs were particularly stretched during winter when there were almost 57,000 respiratory illness presentations.
“Winter 2019 is proving to be a busy year for emergency departments with a high burden of viral respiratory illnesses affecting both our patients and our staff,” he said.
“While this is expected at this time of year, it is still challenging and we appreciate everyone’s understanding of the pressure this places on healthcare resources.”
Logan Hospital respiratory physician Dr Khoa Tran said hospitals were already busy because of this year’s record flu season, with more than 59,000 cases and 2603 hospitalisations recorded.
“The early start to the influenza season and the very high number of cases is being felt in emergency departments, causing pressures on health resources such as beds and staff,” Dr Tran said.
“Influenza can exacerbate existing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, COPD and bronchiectasis.
“It can cause severe pneumonia and aggravate non-respiratory chronic illnesses like heart failure.”
Dr Pearce said parents could take precautions, including vaccinations where possible, to help prevent their children from respiratory infections.
“We are always here to help but please be reassured that, for the majority of healthy vaccinated children, these illnesses are self-limiting and antibiotics are not useful,” he said.
“You can wash your hands frequently, keep sick children isolated from other people they may infect, and seek timely medical care if your child has breathing difficulties or you are concerned that they are not behaving in a manner that you would expect with their illness.”
Dr Tran said similar prevention principles applied to adults.
“If a vaccination is available, it’s wise to get it, especially for serious conditions such as influenza and pneumococcus,” he said.
“People should stay home from work or avoid crowded areas if they’re sick so they don’t infect others.”
In 2018, there were a total of 143,230 ED presentations across the state for respiratory illnesses. The most common conditions were: pneumonia (20,739); bronchitis (15,718); asthma (14,045); COPD (13,579); and tonsillitis (12,732).