Why Australia’s worst flu season in five years could be a warning of what’s to come in Britain |  UK News

Why Australia’s worst flu season in five years could be a warning of what’s to come in Britain | UK News

Britain could be in for a severe flu season after Australia – which usually acts as a Northern Hemisphere predictor – suffered its worst in five years.

The numbers already show that it is 10 times more people in hospital with flu than this time last year.

NHS leaders have warned that the country faces a “triple threat” of covid, flu and a record high need for emergency services amid pressure on staffing.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Flu symptoms include high temperature, headache, fatigue and dry chesty cough, along with cold-like symptoms such as stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and sore throat.

Unlike the common cold, symptoms tend to start more suddenly and are more severe and long-lasting.

Flu

How flu cases in Australia inform the Northern Hemisphere

Experts usually monitor flu cases in winter in Australia and New Zealand to inform predictions about the impact the virus will have when winter reaches the UK.

This year, Australia saw a rapid increase in flu cases, which started earlier than usual and reached record highs.

The majority of flu cases in Australia were due to influenza A, according to the Australian Department of Health, which is known to cause more severe epidemics.

New Zealand also saw its highest flu rates compared to the past two years.

Read more:
Hospital flu cases increased tenfold compared to last year, data from NHS England shows

NHS leaders are more worried about this winter than any before

Relaxation of COVID measures leads to peak in flu

According to an article in The Lancet, the sharp increase in infections was likely driven by a relaxation of measures taken to combat COVID-19, such as isolation, social distancing and the use of masks.

“The Australian data provide a warning of an earlier and more severe flu season in the Northern Hemisphere,” the researchers said.

The authors also said that influenza had not been circulating as much in the past two years, so immunity to circulating virus was likely significantly lower than compared to previous years.

The great debate

Furthermore, it is unlikely that children younger than two – who are most at risk of serious illness, along with pregnant women – have ever been exposed to influenza.

The UK Health Safety Agency said it was particularly concerned about pregnant women and young children.

Falling vaccination rates

The authors noted that flu vaccination rates had declined in both Australia and the UK, including among pregnant women and children, who are most at risk of serious illness.

They also said vaccination rates had fallen among healthcare workers in the UK, from 77% in 2020-21 to 61% in 2021-22, when the vaccine was offered alongside the COVID-19 booster.

They said safety concerns and mistrust of coronavirus vaccines may have also resulted in hesitancy toward the flu vaccine.

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The decision taken earlier this year to remove those aged 50-54 and 11-15 from the flu vaccine-eligible groups should be reconsidered, they added.

Children are most responsible for the transmission of influenza, and have the highest rates of infection in Australia.

The researchers said that to be effective, vaccination campaigns should start early and address disparities in vaccination of groups at high risk of infection, such as healthcare workers and children.

If the UK experiences a flu season similar to the one seen in Australia, it will have to contend with two respiratory viruses circulating at high levels at the same time – putting even more pressure on the already stretched NHS.

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