Health experts trying to predict the severity of the upcoming flu season in the US often look for clues in the Southern Hemisphere. Here's the word from Down Under, where recently winter ended:
Get ready, America.
Australia, which experienced an increase in flu cases earlier than usual, had a hard season. The country was hit hard by a particularly virulent flu variant, H3N2, which usually causes more severe illnesses, especially in senior citizens.
Health officials are urging people to get a flu shot by the end of the month as soon as possible and for sure.
The Australian Department of Health recently said 662 people have died of the flu this season and more than 270,000 people have fallen ill This is one of the worst outbreaks in the country's history.
"When the data came from Australia, everyone became aware of it," Dr. William Linam, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Children's Healthcare in Atlanta. "It made us aware that we were ready, maybe even a little earlier than we already are."
Linam and other experts emphasized that the Australian flu season does not always predict the US.
So far, weekly surveillance data show minimal influenza activity in Georgia, according to the State Department of Health. However, as the weather cools, flu activity will increase. The season usually starts in October and peaks between December and February. But the season can also extend into May ̵
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it takes about two weeks for a flu shot to develop in the body.
MORE: UGA receives substantial funding for the development of a flu vaccine
Dr. Hugo Scornik, a Conyers pediatrician, said that during the severe flu season in the Southern Hemisphere, no one can easily predict the severity of the season or exactly what strain will be in circulation. "The only predictable thing about the flu is that it's unpredictable," he said, repeating an oft-quoted axiom.
Even within the US there may be regional differences.
There were many states at the beginning of the year. In the late flu season there was an increase in H3N2 activity. In Georgia, however, this burden was more prevalent at the beginning of the season.
The flu season 2017/18 in Georgia was particularly brutal. The long-lasting flu season did not subside until the end of April. It claimed 145 deaths throughout the state and led to more than 3,000 hospital stays in the Metro Atlanta. Half a year earlier in Australia, an intensive outbreak of influenza has announced the deadly outbreak here.
The flu causes fever, headaches, muscle aches and can lead to complications such as pneumonia, which can be serious and even fatal.
Every year, 5% to 20% of the US population falls ill with the flu; Tens of thousands are hospitalized; and thousands die from a flu-related illness.
The efficacy of flu vaccines may vary, but has generally been between 40% and 60% in recent years. The effectiveness was only 19% in the period 2014-15.
While many businesses and schools offer free flu shots, more than one-third of Americans return, according to polls.
Experts point out that even if you get the flu, the vaccine can still provide protection. It reduces the severity of the flu and reduces the risk of complications. A vaccine can also shorten the duration of the illness if you become ill.
Seniors, toddlers and people with chronic conditions are at greatest risk of serious flu-related complications, but the flu also kills every healthy person year.
Scornik cited a new hashtag advertised by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a memorable way to remember to get a flu shot before the end of the month – #FluBeforeBoo.
He, his wife and two sons got their flu shot two weeks ago.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to the Atlanta Journal Constitution today.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reports and research to keep you up to date. Thank you for supporting genuine journalism.