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Walking pneumonia, respiratory illnesses on the rise

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Transcript: AMA Queensland President, Dr Nick Yim, ABC Brisbane, Breakfast with Craig and Loretta, Thursday 11 July 2024

Subject: Increase in respiratory illnesses

CRAIG ZONCA: Have you been struck down by any sickness so far this winter? You can hear it in my voice, can’t you?

LORETTA RYAN: Yeah, there’s a lot going around, actually.

CRAIG ZONCA: Nose congestion, difficulty breathing, nasty cough, sore throat. Um, you might have had walking pneumonia. Cases of walking pneumonia have skyrocketed, close to 20-odd thousand in Queensland so far this year. And I hadn’t really heard about it.

LORETTA RYAN: Well, I had because mum had it – walking pneumonia. And it’s one of those things you don’t know you have. So you go to the doctor and they said, yes, you’ve got this walking pneumonia.

CRAIG ZONCA: Dr Nick Yim is the President of the Australian Medical Association Queensland. Dr Yim, good morning. It’s really been quite a severe season for this. Why?

DR NICK YIM: You’re absolutely right. It’s something where, as you commented earlier, we are in the middle of winter, we are seeing a rise in the respiratory viruses, the coughs, the colds, maybe feeling a bit unwell, under the weather. And at the same time we have seen a rise in cases of mycoplasma pneumonia. With these bugs it comes in waves, so this is where we’re seeing one of these waves.

LORETTA RYAN: And with this walking pneumonia, people don’t know they have it. Why?

DR NICK YIM: They are relatively mild form of symptoms that they have. So most people will get better, whereas some people will get a bit more severe fever. And then that’s when they need to present to their general practitioner or sometimes, in worst case scenarios, the emergency department.

CRAIG ZONCA: And have we seen an increase in hospitalisations this year when you compare it historically?

DR NICK YIM: It’s really hard to say because, as you can imagine, pneumonia has many causes. But yes this season, as we are hearing, we are seeing a slight rise, according to John Gerrard, our Chief Health Officer.

CRAIG ZONCA: And I have heard that there’s a shortage of a particular antibiotic used to treat cases. Is that the case?

DR NICK YIM: Yeah. This creates a fair bit of concern, obviously, for parents when they have to go around to GPs asking for a different type of antibiotic or to pharmacists, to have to run around. At the same time, it leaves concerns for our GP colleagues because we do need to find that right antibiotic for the right patient for the right condition.

LORETTA RYAN: So how bad is the shortage?

DR NICK YIM: The shortage itself, there is supply still available, but at the same time, some of the suppliers are telling us maybe two to three months. I don’t want to leave angst for the listeners. That just means that your GP will probably do some more testing, take an examination, maybe order some swabs and chest x-rays to make sure we conserve those antibiotics for the people who genuinely do need it, for those pneumonia cases.

LORETTA RYAN: At what stage would they prescribe an antibiotic?

DR NICK YIM: We need to confirm that it is a bacterial infection. Things like influenza, the common cold, they do not need antibiotics. They are viruses. And the body’s immune system will get better. So for people who are really unwell – for example, short of breath – they might order an x-ray and they see pneumonia on the x-ray. Those groups of people will need antibiotics.

LORETTA RYAN: Dr Nick Yim is the President of the Australian Medical Association Queensland. What about the flu shot? Are you finding, does this give some protection against walking pneumonia?

DR NICK YIM: I think the key thing is there’s many causes of pneumonia. Influenza can lead to pneumonia. And you bring up a really good point. For those people who haven’t been vaccinated, please get vaccinated. It’s never too late. And that also includes the COVID immunisation.

CRAIG ZONCA: Okay, Dr Yim, appreciate your time this morning. By the way, do GPs have some sort of super immunity? You’re treating people coming in with these respiratory illnesses. What’s your best advice, Nick, to stay protected? How do you do it?

DR NICK YIM: The key thing is we take our own advice. For example, in between patients we always wash our hands. We make sure we keep vaccinated. And at the same time GPs are learning our own lessons as well. We stay at home when we’re unwell. Gone are the days when GPs are going to be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week when we are unwell. We do stay at home as well.

CRAIG ZONCA: Can I be controversial? Like, do you have an extra supply of vitamin C tablets? Echinacea? My wife swears on olive leaf, which tastes absolutely horrible, Nick. Do you subscribe to any of those things as well?

DR NICK YIM: I think it’s one of those tricky things. I used to be a pharmacist, so it’s one of those things where, if it makes you feel better and you feel that you’re getting better, you can take it, but the evidence is quite lacking. The key thing is making sure you do get your sleep, get your rest and get vaccinated.

LORETTA RYAN: And nutrition as well, good nutrition. Raw turmeric. That does it for me.

CRAIG ZONCA: Oh, raw turmeric.

LORETTA RYAN: Oh yes, I’ve told you this little drink in hot water with raw um, something else. Garlic and everything. Lemon and honey. Raw turmeric is the key though.

CRAIG ZONCA: Ah, the garlic in there. I can smell that on your breath as you speak. Thanks so much, Dr Nick Yim, President of the Australian Medical Association Queensland branch.

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