Stark warning over viruses leaving Aussies bedridden 'for weeks'

Cases normally spike in winter but this year feels much worse, Aussies are reporting.

Sydney woman Natalie Hunt, who has been sick with a virus for weeks, is pictured on the right, beside a zoomed-in influenza virus.
Sydney woman Natalie Hunt said she's been sick for three weeks with a mystery respiratory illness. Health workers have warned a dangerous cocktail of viruses is currently spreading across Australia. Source: Supplied/Getty

Health workers are reporting a dangerous cocktail of respiratory viruses is spreading throughout Australia, with those contracting them warning they've been caught off-guard and struck down "worse than Covid".

During winter, people are more likely to get sick as we naturally spend more time indoors and in close proximity with one another. While in Australia "we are quite well vaccinated as a population" from Covid-19, the same can't be said the for the flu in 2024, experts say.

Mostly due to vaccine fatigue, doctors say Australians aren't coming forward for their jabs like they should be and as a result, people are becoming more complacent and subsequently, quite sick and bedridden for weeks.

While the intensity of these respiratory illnesses making the rounds — made up largely of the common cold, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RVS) — is "subjective" to an individual's experience, it appears some of this year's strains are "quite severe".

Doctors are also reporting people are presenting with more than one virus at the same time.

A microscopic view of the influenza virus.
Flu cases in particular are spiking in Australia, with doctors urging people to get vaccinated. Source: NCA Newswire

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Dr Joel Ten, National Asthma Council Australia spokesperson and Melbourne-based GP, said he's "certainly heard" some strains have been brutal. "I've seen a number of patients who have reported that they've had quite severe symptoms with the flu, but it does depend from person to person," he said.

"There are a lot of respiratory viruses that are floating around at the moment, it's not just Covid and not just influenza. There's many others that we don't routinely test for. Another big one that has been around is RSV [respiratory syncytial virus].

"There are other viruses like parainfluenza, rhinovirus, metapneumovirus that can also infect people outside of the big three. And certainly some of my patients have said similar things that when they've contracted one, they felt that it was worse than Covid itself."

Natalie Hunt of Sydney has been sick "for weeks". She's not a patient of Dr Ten but agrees whatever respiratory illness she's contracted is "far worse than Covid-19". Speaking to Yahoo News, Hunt said she's now in her third week of being bedridden.

"This is the longest and nastiest illness I've had since I was a kid," she said. "Nasty, green chesty mucus, cough, fatigue, swollen glands, lower back pain, blocked ears — I've had it all.

"When I had Covid, I had acute symptoms but it only lasted a few days. With this I feel like I'm going to recover but just wake up the same. I have been at home resting since Tuesday, July 2, eating soup, fruit and veg — and really taking care of myself, but I'm not getting any better."

According to Dr Ten, "there could be a few reasons for that".

He said a lot of people haven't really been vaccinated against the flu.

"So certainly, if you've not been vaccinated for the flu, but you've been vaccinated for Covid, that could be an explanation as to why some people are getting influenza subjectively worse than some people have gotten Covid.

"Whatever [viruses] are prevalent in the northern hemisphere, vaccines will be generated against generally the top four of those particular ones. And then that gets shipped across to us in the southern hemisphere. And then hopefully, whatever we get vaccination-wise, is going match up with whatever strains are floating around.

"It does seem like we're shaping up to be worse than than last year in terms of raw numbers — but as for the actual severity, again, it's hard to say one potential reason, I suspect it is because we're just a less vaccinated population."

Flu cases in Australia have drastically surged in most jurisdictions in recent months, with children copping the brunt. In NSW for example, new data released this week revealed more than 3,400 children aged between 10 and 19 tested positive for influenza in the week ending June 29.

The NSW Health data also found 3,255 children aged five to nine and 2,389 children up to four-years-old had tested positive for influenza in the week ending June 29, while a staggering 14,537 children aged between 10 and 19 have tested positive for the flu so far this year.

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