AFTER a horror flu season, the Palaszczuk Government will provide free influenza vaccines for children between six months and five years old from next year.
Health Minister Cameron Dick will announce the measure, worth up to $1 million a year and potentially benefiting 300,000 children, at the Queensland Flu Summit today in Brisbane.
"Of all the vaccine-preventable diseases, influenza causes the most hospital admissions of children under five years old," Mr Dick said.
So far this year, 544 Queensland children aged under five, who have been admitted to public hospitals, have tested positive to the flu.
"We also know that children contribute greatly to the spread of the flu in the community and the risks of serious complications for kids who contract the flu are high," Mr Dick said.
The minister said Queensland would continue to push for free flu vaccines to be provided to children under five to as part of the national immunisation program.
"The State Government is exploring ways to better safeguard communities from serious flu outbreaks," Mr Dick said.
"Countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, the US and Finland are already providing routine influenza vaccination for children under five and I'm pleased we are adding Queensland to that list."
Earlier today, he announced Queensland would spend $1.3 million on new technology to diagnose the flu and other infections faster in 15 of the state's largest public hospitals.
He said the technology would give doctors flu test results in as little as half an hour.
Pathology Queensland's director of microbiology Professor Graeme Nimmo said being able to diagnose the flu many hours earlier would potentially save lives.
He said the turnaround for flu tests at Pathology Queensland's central laboratory at Herston, in Brisbane's inner north, was about 19 hours, on average, for patients at the nearby Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. That could stretch out to about 40 hours for patients in regional areas.
Mr Dick said $600,000 would be spent on more rapid point-of-care flu testing machines and $700,000 for automated blood culture technology.
Professor Nimmo said the blood culture machines would allow doctors to diagnose bacterial infections about four hours quicker than using existing technology.
"At the moment, the sorts of organisms we're talking about, it would take us, maybe 12 to 16 hours to incubate those to a stage where we can detect them," he said. "Being able to shorten that by four hours, that's a very significant difference. It'll mean that if patients are not on treatment, they'll get treatment sooner or if they've been started on the wrong agent that can be corrected much quicker."
Improving the speed of testing for bacterial infections is particularly important during the flu season.
"What happens with the flu is it makes you more susceptible to bacteria that cause pneumonia," Professor Nimmo explained.
"The flu basically strips our cells of a protective layer and the bacteria are able to attach more easily and invade."
Mr Dick said today's flu summit had brought together health experts, including World Health Organisation representatives, to develop more strategies to manage future flu seasons.
This year has been a particularly bad flu season in Queensland with almost 53,000 confirmed cases, including more than 5500 patients requiring admission to hospital, hundreds of them requiring intensive care.
Rapid point-of-care flu testing is already in place at five Queensland public facilities - the Princess Alexandra, Toowoomba, Cairns, Ipswich and the Lady Cilento Children's hospitals.
In 2018, it will be rolled out to the Royal Brisbane, Prince Charles, Gold Coast University, Townsville, Rockhampton, Logan, Redland, Redcliffe, Caboolture, QEII, Mackay, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Mount Isa and Robina hospitals.