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FLiRT, COVID, colds, flu, RSV; Winter welcomes ‘Viral Soup’


An onslaught of colds, flu, RSV, and the latest COVID subvariant FLiRT in the region is being described by Hunter New England Local Health District Public Health Physician Dr David Durrheim as a “Viral Soup”.  

Little more than a week into winter and Hunter hospitals are already reporting an influx of communicable viruses, prompting fresh warnings to be alert. 

The call comes as news the latest COVID sub-variant FLiRT has reached the region. 

The FLiRT strains are subvariants of Omicron. 

Some experts have suggested the FLiRT subvariants may be more transmissible than earlier COVID variants.

“There are two different variants of FLiRT that are particularly dominant in New South Wales right now,” says Dr Durrheim. 

“The presentations are very much like the other Omicron presentations. 

“We’re certainly seeing an impact on our hospitals. 

“Today alone, (Tuesday 11 June) there are over 90 people patients in Hunter New England hospitals with confirmed COVID. 

“Seven of those folks are in the ICU.” 

Dr Durrheim says it’s a timely reminder the community needs to be vigilant particularly around the most vulnerable. 

“Particularly older people or people with underlying chronic health conditions. They can get very severe COVID still. 

“Unfortunately, we have 29 aged care outbreaks with COVID across Hunter New England.” 

The recent long weekend, with large numbers of people travelling, could see more numbers present in coming days. 

“Whenever we get people crowded in indoor environments at this time of the year it really does give the virus the opportunity to spread,” says Dr Durrheim. 

During the past fortnight Newcastle’s largest health hub, John Hunter Hospital, welcomed signage suggesting all visitors once again adhere to mask-wearing.

Health authorities are once again suggesting face masks be worn when social distancing isn’t possible.

“Yes, we strongly recommend that anybody going into a hospital wear a mask,” adds Dr Durrheim. 

“As I said, there are 92 people in the Hunter New England hospitals with COVID today. 

“So, if you’re going into a hospital, there’s going to be COVID around. 

“It’s very sensible that one wears a mask. 

“Obviously, the last thing one wants to be responsible for is bringing COVID into a high-risk area in a hospital. 

“I strongly recommend people wear masks at aged care facilities at this time too, while it’s surging. We know our older folk don’t do very well with COVID. 

“In fact, in crowded indoor environments where it’s very difficult to distance, masks are a very sensible way of keeping one’s self safe. 

“It’s really becoming a viral soup this winter, we’ve got quite a lot of other activity as well. 

“There’s the cold viruses which make up a third of swabs right now, the RSV is still unfortunately around, with about 8% of swabs testing positive to RSV. 

“We’re still seeing children admitted to hospital with problems breathing because of RSV. 

“Flu levels are moderate, sitting at about 4% and COVID is sitting at 11% and Whooping Cough is about as well. 

“I’s really important that all younger children and pregnant women get their Whooping Cough vaccines.” 

Working from home when unwell, wearing a face mask, avoiding public areas if experiencing symptoms, and thoroughly washing hands are once again practices being suggested by Hunter health experts.

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