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Pandemic strikes Gympie area

Craig Warhurst

QUEENSLAND Health officials are preparing for what has already been labelled a “perfect storm” of winter illnesses, as swine 'flu and whooping cough pandemics combine dangerously with normal winter colds and 'flu.

As health officials in other states predict massive strain on systems and resources in coming weeks, Queensland officials reported the state's first swine 'flu death and a jump in confirmed swine 'flu cases from 2647 at noon Wednesday to 2769 by yesterday morning.

In Gympie's health district, the number of confirmed cases jumped from 210 on Sunday to 274 by Wednesday.

And the latest Gympie Regional Council figures show the possible beginnings of a local whooping cough outbreak, with five confirmed cases of the notifiable disease reported by our region's doctors between May 25 and June 14.

WITH swine 'flu described by medical authorities as much more dangerous to people with other respiratory problems as well, the prospect of two respiratory pandemics coinciding had health authorities worried across the continent.

One Tasmanian health official this week predicted “one of the worst winters for (that state's) health service in a long time.

“Partly because of (swine 'flu ), partly because of the whooping cough outbreak. There's a lot of respiratory illness out there that isn't 'flu and, of course, there's seasonal 'flu,” she said.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh yesterday announced the provision of free whooping cough vaccine for new parents to help combat a nationwide outbreak of the disease.

She said the disease, also known as Pertussis, was now four times higher nationally and in Queensland than was the case this time last year.

She said that three babies with whooping cough had died in Australia so far this year and more than 15,000 adults and children had been diagnosed with the disease.

Ms Bligh said the $3 million program would run for an initial six months from August 1, followed by an assessment of its effectiveness and whether the current outbreak had subsided.

She said it was important parents be vaccinated to prevent them from passing the highly contagious disease onto new born babies, who cannot be vaccinated.

The vaccine can only be given to babies after two months of age, she said.

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