Cough syrup, Nurofen shortage as flu outbreak sees pharmacists sell out of medicine


50,000 cases in just two weeks: Cough syrup and Nurofen are flying off the shelves as Australia grapples with superflu epidemic

  • Pharmacies have warned they are running low on flu medicine amid an outbreak
  • Influenza cases are up almost 300 times than last year in parts of the country
  • Australia recorded almost 50,000 influenza cases between May 23 and June 5
  • Experts recommend at-risk groups stay up-to-date with their free flu vaccine

Flu and pain medicine is flying off the shelves as Australia battles its worst recorded ‘superflu’ outbreak after two years of the Covid pandemic made the illness almost non-existent. 

Australia has recorded almost 50,000 flu cases between May 23 and June 5, breaking previous records, with cases up almost 300 times than last year in parts of the country.

Victorian President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Anthony Tassone said the dramatic spike in cases has led to a cold and flu medicine shortage.

Australian pharmacists have warned they are running low on flu and pain medicine after a spike in flu cases

Australian pharmacists have warned they are running low on flu and pain medicine after a spike in flu cases

‘There have been shortages for medications used for pain and fever such as: paracetamol and ibuprofen – in products for children and adults,’ he said.

‘These shortages have happened intermittently throughout the Covid pandemic and may be due to sudden increases in demand which supply cannot keep up with.’

Mr Tassone said he’d seen the shortage first-hand in his Victorian pharmacy where cases are almost 278 times higher than they were this time last year.

‘Pharmacy teams are trying their best to obtain stock as soon as possible and may be able to suggest an alternative,’ he said.

Australia recorded almost 50,000 cases in just two weeks and has doubled the previously held record for the most flu cases recorded in May (pictured, laboratory-confirmed flu cases from January 2017 to May 2022)

Australia recorded almost 50,000 cases in just two weeks and has doubled the previously held record for the most flu cases recorded in May (pictured, laboratory-confirmed flu cases from January 2017 to May 2022)

This year’s flu season broke the May record for most recorded cases, with 65,000 people diagnosed with influenza, beating the previous May record of 30,372 cases in 2019.

The new ‘superflu’ began making the rounds in March but began spreading rapidly in late May with 47,860 cases recorded between May 23 and June 5.

However actual case numbers are likely to be much higher than recorded as many people do not seek medical attention for the flu.

With the jump in flu cases due to coincide with an annual spike of Covid cases this winter, acting chief medical officer Sonya Bennett has urged people to stay on top of their flu vaccinations.

Cases of the 'superflu' were reported in March but began spreading rapidly in late May with 47,860 cases recorded between May 23 and June 5

Cases of the ‘superflu’ were reported in March but began spreading rapidly in late May with 47,860 cases recorded between May 23 and June 5

‘Annual vaccination is the most important measure to prevent influenza and its complications,’ she said.

‘Over the past two years influenza cases were very low in Australia because of limitations on international travel and a range of other measures such as social distancing and mask wearing, but with restrictions now eased, influenza cases are rising.’ 

She said the vaccination rate has been low in children under five this year, a group the Department of Health as identified as an ‘at-risk’ age group.

Residents in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania can receive a free flu vaccine from the doctor or pharmacy.

Children under the age of five have been identified as an 'at-risk' group and parents have been urged to vaccinate their kids

Children under the age of five have been identified as an ‘at-risk’ group and parents have been urged to vaccinate their kids

Pregnant women, Indigenous people, people with certain medical conditions, children under six years old and adults over 65 years old can also access the free jab.

The fast-spreading ‘superflu’ outbreak comes after weeks of warning the flu could couple with Covid and create a hybrid ‘flurona’.

A combination outbreak could see even more strain on the public health system as workers call in sick and patients flood in.

Sydney GP Kean Seng Lim called for facemasks to be brought back in late May to prevent another outbreak.

Health experts have called for people to stay up-to-date with their Covid and flu vaccines amid the 'superflu' outbreak

Health experts have called for people to stay up-to-date with their Covid and flu vaccines amid the ‘superflu’ outbreak

‘I think we have a big problem coming,’ he told the Today Show.

‘You have got the Covid and influenza viruses both coming on together.

‘We do see them happening more during these winter months as people cluster closer together.

‘We also have the problem where we are going to have fewer staff. It isn’t just because staff are off, because they themselves are sick, but also because their kids and grandkids are sick at schools and or schools are reducing because teachers are sick and so forth and so forth because everything interconnects.’

Dr Lim also reiterated health advice to stay on top of vaccinations, including the Covid booster jab.

Sydney GP Kean Seng Lim called for facemasks to be brought back in late May after data predicted a possible flu outbreak

Sydney GP Kean Seng Lim called for facemasks to be brought back in late May after data predicted a possible flu outbreak

‘We forget we’re still in the middle of a huge epidemic and vaccines are one of our best first line protections,’ Dr Lim said.

‘Once the message is out there, then that starts the ball rolling and we’ve got to get the message out there.

‘Both Covid and influenza are serious illnesses that you can be vaccinated against.

‘They are passed the same way – coughing and sneezing.

‘We should be going back to wearing masks as well.’

WHO CAN GET THE FOURTH COVID VACCINE? 

People who are now recommended to receive a fourth dose include people with: 

  • Immunocompromising conditions
  • Cancers 
  • Specific chronic inflammatory conditions. 
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Severe chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic neurological disease
  • Diabetes requiring medication
  • Chronic cardiac disease
  • People with disability with significant or complex health needs or multiple comorbidities which increase risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19
  • Severe obesity
  • Severely underweight

The updated eligibility for the above groups builds on advice in March 2022 that the following groups could get a fourth dose:

  • people aged 65 years and above
  • residents of aged care or disability care facilities
  • people with severe immunocompromise
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years or above 

Source: ATAGI

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