In recent months, the news has been flooded with headlines claiming we have a "killer flu season". Researchers observing laboratory data use the term "flunami".
Data suggest that this is a serious year for the flu, with more cases, hospitalizations and deaths than at the same time in previous years. But history has more to offer.
Intensified influenza testing and a very early start to the flu season have led to these high numbers. In the meantime, people's awareness and concern have increased as the media continues to report the high number of influenza cases.
It's a bad year for the flu, but it's too soon to call it the worst ever ̵
Increasing concern leads to increased testing
Influenza tragically causes deaths every year, including in infants and healthy young people. This is still a surprise to many. The reporting of these deaths presents human stories that make the risk real and threatening.
This can be seen from the trends in the search for flu deaths and influenza symptoms in Australia this year. The steep rise is closely related to media coverage of deaths from the beginning of May.
Google's search for deaths in 2019 dwarfs 2017's interest as media reports of influenza deaths appear more sporadic.
Fear of a singularly severe and dangerous flu season leads more people suffering from flu-like symptoms should go to their family doctor or an emergency room to conduct an investigation. This, in turn, may lead to more doctors testing for influenza leading to an increase in influenza.
Every Monday morning in winter our flood tracking survey polls about 45,000 Australians for their flu-like symptoms (fever and cough). We also ask sick flood trackers if their doctor has tested them for influenza.
Every year more and more flood trackers answer yes. Comparison of the percentage of flood trailers with cough and fever who passed an influenza test in April and May increased significantly from 2016, with a very significant increase in 2019.
The Season is earlier, but it is not more serious
Since at least 2011, flu activity has increased from summer to autumn. This trend is particularly pronounced this year.
Systems such as flood tracking show a higher level of influenza-like illnesses at this time of year, but the numbers are not nearly as high as the typical peaks from August to September over the past five years.
Flutracking is not perfect and only follows flu-like symptoms. The monitoring of influenza is based on several incomplete data streams. everyone contributes to our understanding of the whole picture.
Another system providing objective information on the severity of influenza is the New York Wales death registry data. It showed some unusual peaks in February and March, but is otherwise low and about half as high as in the middle of a typical influenza season.
The flu shot in 2019 is not perfect – but still our best defense against influenza
Influenza hospitalization rates in many hospitals are high for this season, and some may be approaching peak 2017 birdwatch rates. However, there are a number of patients admitted to hospital with intensive care flu no indication of the The early flu season is deadlier than usual.
The easiest way to describe the season is early, but so far average. The influenza rates are high for this season, but the disease is not more severe compared to the typical peak in the middle of winter.
The comparison of 2019 with 2018, which was a very mild year, continues to confer the disease difference.
When does it end?
Describing the season as "early" raises the question of how long it will last. Nobody knows. The dynamics of an influenza season are a mixture of individual circulating strains, population immunity to circulating strains due to past infection or immunization, population density and interactions, and weather – all highly unpredictable factors.
As the circulating pressures change, it is possible that the number of vulnerable people in the community will be depleted and the flu season "burned out". If not, it could be a great year for influenza.
Note that this is a comprehensive overview of a large country. Western Australia seems to have a different experience this year with very high rates of laboratory notifications and hospital admissions related to influenza. After a series of mild seasons of influenza, a much larger group of people may become susceptible to influenza infections.
Children are more susceptible to the flu – that's what you should look for this winter
How worried should you be?
So far the season is early, but average. It is not the worst flu season and no "flunami".
Is there any damage in the media that is hyperbolic about the nature of any flu season? Some see no disadvantage in using the media interest as an opportunity to educate the public about influenza or to promote research.
At the same time, there is a danger of linking sound public health advice to unreliable interpretations of what is actually happening. The weeping wolf can undermine confidence in public health.
Hopefully the messages about the flu will stay clear. You do not want to get influenza, and when you get it, you do not want to transfer it to other people. Immunization, hand hygiene, antiviral treatment and staying at home in case of illness can help.
Have you noticed that Australia's flu season is getting worse? Here is the reason
If you want to help Flutracking find the flu in your area, you can log on to Flutracking.net. 19659034]