Two patients a day evacuated from Maningrida as flu outbreak worsens in Northern Territory


A remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory is medically evacuating two residents a day as the Top End faces a ‘tsunami’ of flu cases in its worst outbreak in years.

Over the past week, one or two people have been evacuated from Maningrida – 370 kilometers from Darwin on the north coast of Arnhem Land – every day due to a severe flu outbreak.

“These are unprecedented numbers in volumes per day,” said Jessica Gatti, head of the local health clinic.

“You’re in the thick of it and just managing what’s going on, but these evacuations are on top of our normal core business.”

Ms Gatti said the number of people showing up seeking medical attention had doubled.

“The flu season definitely came much earlier and much more difficult than expected, so we didn’t have the opportunity to do mass vaccination,” she said.

Health Clinic Director Jessica Gatti and President Charlie Gunabarra manage high numbers.(Provided: Jessica Gatti)

Ms Gatti said the clinic also ran out of a drug that helped relieve flu symptoms, but the federal government was able to provide more after 48 hours.

She said the handling of the flu outbreak was very different from that of COVID-19.

“With COVID-19, there had been so much pre-preparation and we had so many policies, procedures and workflows for how we were going to handle an outbreak internally,” Ms Gatti said.

“The flu epidemic is certainly worse in the sense that it’s a huge strain on the staff and on the patients in this [we’re] try to see them all in a timely manner.

“Staff are just seeing a lot more patient loads than they normally would.”

An Aboriginal mother and her child sit in a hospital bed.
Sharana Turner and her daughter Collette seek treatment for the flu in Maningrida. (Provided)

A spokesman for the Northern Territories Department of Health said it had a plan in place to deal with seasonal flu, including “reconfiguring resources as needed”, but did not provide details. about what that entails.

Health workers ‘caught off guard’

The spokesperson said there have been 2,162 recorded cases of flu in the NT this season, with 140 people admitted to hospital.

The Maningrida Clinic
The Maningrida dispensary receives twice the number of people it would normally receive.(Provided)

There were 76 recorded cases of flu last year, when five patients were admitted to hospital.

John Paterson, chief executive of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, said Maningrida was not the only community struggling to contain flu outbreaks.

AMSANT Managing Director John Paterson in Darwin.
John Paterson says the early onset of flu season caught health workers off guard.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

He said flu season normally peaks in August or September in the NT.

There were no recorded deaths from the flu outbreak, but Mr Paterson said many symptoms were worse than COVID-19.

“It’s probably a little more severe than what they had with COVID. It lasts a little longer,” he said.

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