- Australia has gone through one of its worst flu seasons in recent years.
- Officials are bracing for a tough river season here because of what happened in the Southern Hemisphere
Australia has just weathered one of its worst rivers on record and expecting it the United States.
The 2019 river season in Australia usually spans from June to September and peaks in August. However, it starts early this year.
And it's still going.
"This will be a gangbuster of a year," Ian Barr, deputy director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Reference and Research on Influenza based in Australia, told Healthline.
"This will be the longest season I think we've probably had as long as things have been recorded," Barr noted.
Australia's last bad river season was in 2017, which saw more than 229,000 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza reported by the end of October.
This year's flu season in Australia has already passed that, with 272,146 laboratory confirmed cases reported by the end of the first week of September.
Barr says the actual number of people with influenza is likely much higher.
"It's a very high number approaching 300,000 – and that's the tip of the iceberg because not everyone has flowed to the doctor," he said.
He argues the reported numbers of influenza may represent just 10 percent of the real number of cases.
The Australia is prompting influenza experts in the United States to prepare for the worst.
"That bothers me. I'm tightening my seatbelt in anticipation that we may have something similar, "Dr. William Schaffner, an influenza expert at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, told Healthline.
"It's a bit ominous. I see some storm clouds on the horizon. Australia's influenza season, which is about to start, is not an exact template, but he said. "So I'm concerned we might, once more, have this odd double-barreled influenza season with two dominant viruses."
Earlier this month, a 4-year-old boy in California died after testing positive for influenza.
"That gave everyone a chill and that's distinctly early for us," Schaffner said.
U.S. Pat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that people should get vaccinated before the onset of influenza. [Children]
Supply of the flu vaccine is dependent on the private producers who produce it.
For the 2019-2020 flu season, manufacturers estimate there will be
Last week, federal officials announced that 70 million flu shots would be delayed due to the need to recalibrate the vaccine.
On Thursday, President Trump signed an executive order designed to improve flu vaccine manufacturing and effectiveness.
19659007] Early figures suggest the vaccine used in Australia this year was effective.
"If there is a ray of hope, the influenza vaccine that was used in the Southern Hemisphere was a very good match against those strains. We trust that we want to have a very good match, "Schaffner said.
Every year, experts around the world try to predict what the next river season will look like like. It's a task Schaffner says it can be difficult to get right.
"There's always a bit of crystal ball gazing, trying to predict what's going on 9 months ahead.
"Sometimes you're right on target, but sometimes you're off target because in that 9-month interval the virus mutates and drifts from the strain that is in the vaccine, "he added.
Stephen Morse, PhD, is an expert on influenza and infectious diseases at New York's Columbia University.
He says taking note of the experiences of the Southern Hemisphere is helpful in preparing for the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere.
"In a study we did, Australia seemed a good predictor for the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere only about 50 percent of the time … but we should pay attention to it. It's the only real advance notice we get, "he said.
Australia may have had a rough flu season, but Morse argues with increased vigilance, good educational messaging, and decent vaccine coverage, the United States might not have the same fate as Australia.
"It's not inevitable – we just did a good job in stopping flu epidemics," he said. "Every six influenza virus has an epidemic to pass from person to person to an unbroken chain, like a bucket brigade. If we could effectively break that chain, we could stop the epidemic. "
" From what we know about flu transmissibility, we've got to reduce transmission by a little over 50 percent, "he continued. "Does not seem that hard, does it? But we've never succeeded in this. In the meantime, our vaccine coverage rates exceed 50 percent at best. "
7 million Illnesses
Experts say it does not matter whether the flu season is severe or not, everyone should get vaccinated regardless.
"The recommendations in the US could not be simpler. Everyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated, "Schaffner said.
"There will be flow, and therefore you should get vaccinated," he said. "Do not depend upon the predictions to decide whether you should get vaccinated. I think that's a real fallacy. "