Australia is in the grips of a severe flu outbreak that has already claimed more than 430 lives.
After a relatively mild season in 2018, so far this year around 217,000 people have been diagnosed with influenza – a significantly higher number of cases than are usually reported by this stage of the Australian winter. To date, 430 people have died but public health officials believe this may be an underestimate as some deaths were attributed to other causes despite the presence of flu-related symptoms.
The World Health Organization Influenza Centre said the number of cases was about five times higher than usual, and that the total for 2019 looked likely to exceed that of 2017. However, WHO reported on 21 August 2019 that flu activity in the Southern hemisphere appeared to have peaked.
Public Health England said it is monitoring flu activity in Australia and urged people to get vaccinated this autumn.
Dr Richard Pebody, head of flu surveillance at PHE said: ‘We are monitoring closely, to see if the high levels of activity continue or if this early activity represents the peak for this season.
‘What we’re seeing in Australia highlights the importance of anyone who is eligible taking up the offer of flu vaccine when the campaign launches later in the autumn.
‘This includes front line health and social care workers to help protect the people they care for.’
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the flu season is ‘fast approaching’, with ‘sporadic’ cases already reported.
The WHO delayed its full recommendations for the composition of flu vaccine for the Northern hemisphere by a month earlier this year as a result of the rapid evolution of circulating A(H3N2) viruses.
Some manufacturers have warned that – as it takes 6-8 months to produce and approve vaccines once the candidate strains have been announced – the delayed announcement may cause a knock-on delay in delivery of supplies, and a delay of up to two months to the start of the 2019-20 campaign. However, Seqirus has confirmed that both Fluad (aTIV) and Flucelvax (QIVc) will be despatched on time. See more here.