Australian flu from a UK perspective

Aussie flu
Aussie flu

Flu season this year has been especially bad with Strain H3N2 of Influenza A dubbed the ‘Aussie flu’ has been said to be taking over the UK. Last year it caused havoc in Australia with an estimated 29,000 admissions of confirmed influenza since April 2017. Figures from Public Health England show that so far this season there have been 1,850 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 83% of them have been associated with influenza A. The Chief medical officer for England Dame Sally Davies warns “flu can kill and it is important we all take it seriously”. with GP rate of Influenza like Illnesses remaining very high throughout the country with areas including Lincolnshire, west midlands, and Cornwell affected. But how many cases of influenza can Aussie flu account for? how is Aussie flu different to normal flu? And is it deadlier? Well the symptoms are very similar to other influenza strains:

  •  sudden fever – a temperature of 38C or above
  • aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • dry, chesty cough
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain

It has been reported that H3N2 killed 300 people in Australia however an investigation by the Australian Government Department of health found that mortality rates are consistent with previous years with the largest number of deaths among the elderly, With death rates highest among the over eighties. A similar pattern can be seen in the UK as out of the two hundred and sixteen acute respiratory outbreaks one hundred and sixty-nine were from care homes. Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director says “We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia. The A(H3N2) strain particularly affects older, more vulnerable age groups”. However out of 598 hospitalised confirmed influenza cases 26 were influenza A(H1N1),48 influenza A(H3N2), 158 influenza A(unknown subtype) and 366 influenza B). As with other flu strands the Elderly, young, pregnant women and those with prexisiting conditions are the most vulnerable. With statistically significant excess all-cause mortality by week of death was seen through the EuroMOMO algorithm in the 65+ year olds in England.

to protect yourself from H3N2 and other strains of flu this year the CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. Studies in the UK from 2017 show that the vaccine is was 40.6% in 18-64 year olds, with no significant effectiveness in ≥65 year olds and 83% of which were associated with influenza A, and 1,254 cases (68%) were in adults 65 years of age or older.VE was 57% for A(H3N2) for 2-17 year olds receiving quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine and 78.6% for influenza B. East Kent Hospitals warns of the “tragic effects” of influenza and encourages people to get the jab. “30% of infections being asymptomatic and a similar proportion with only mild respiratory symptoms. Such individuals, with mild or no symptoms, can still pass on the virus to vulnerable people” so it seems well worth getting the Jab which is free for over 65s, adults over 18 at risk of flu, pregnant women and children ages 6 months to 2 years at risk of flu. The shot is available at GP surgeries, Pharmacies and Midwifery services for pregnant women. Dame Sally Davies states “the best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get the flu jab.” Of course all the normal NHS guidelines to influenza still apply with the NHS relaunching the campaign “Catch it, Kill it, Bin it” NHS choices states “Washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and your family from getting ill” and suggests these simple tips for staying well:

  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  2. Stay home when you are sick.
  3. Cover your mouth and nose.
  4. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  5. Clean your hands.
  6. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
  7. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  8. Practice other good health habits.
  9. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
  10. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.$File/2017-season-summary-22112017.pdf

Article by University of Birmingham intern Natasha Osborn Patel