What is 'Aussie' flu and should we be worried?

From BBC - January 8, 2018

The NHS is preparing itself for a bad flu season.

One of the strains circulating this year - H3N2 - has been dubbed Aussie flu because it is the same strain that recently caused big problems for Australia.

Australia's 2017 flu season was the worst the country had experienced in nearly a decade.

Experts are waiting to see if similar will happen here in the UK, after a recent rise in cases.

What is Aussie flu?

Every winter there are a few strains circulating and Aussie flu or H3N2 is just one of them. It is an influenza A virus that appears to cause more severe infections in young children and the elderly.

Most people will recover in about a week and wo not need any specific treatment, apart from a bit of bed rest, some paracetamol or ibuprofen and drinking plenty of fluids.

But for some - the very old, very young or people with pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease - flu can be deadly.

Is Aussie flu worse than other types of flu?

The UK is seeing a mix of flu types circulating including influenza B as well as the H3N2 strain.

H3N2 is not new. It was around last winter too.

Any strain of flu, including H3N2, can be dangerous for people who are vulnerable to it.

Experience from last winter suggests the elderly are a high risk group for H3N2.

Influenza viruses are given different names based on their type - A, B and C. A is usually the most serious while C is usually a milder infection. They can be further subdivided according to the proteins that they carry on their surface. These are called H and N antigens.

How bad is the situation in the UK?

Hospital admissions and GP visits for influenza have seen a sharp rise going into 2018, but are still comparable to the previous winter and are nowhere near as high as in 2008-09 when the swine flu pandemic hit the UK.

Nick Phin, Interim Deputy Director for National Infection Service at Public Health England, said: "Flu activity, as measured by a number of different systems, has continued to increase in the last week or two. This is to be expected as the season progresses, and while no two flu seasons are the same, the numbers are in-keeping with previous years.

"We will continue to actively monitor flu activity and we are working closely with NHS England to support their work putting measures in place to manage potential increases in local and national flu activity."

What about the flu jab?

The vaccine is designed to protect against the type of flu circulating in any given season.

Every year, the World Health Organization reviews the global situation and recommends which flu strains should go into the vaccine to be manufactured for the following season.

This year's flu jab is designed to protect against H3N2 as well as some other strains.

How effective is it?

Vaccination is the best protection we have against flu.

But flu is unpredictable. Flu viruses constantly mutate and change, so it is a moving target to fight.

Public Health England says typical effectiveness of the flu vaccine is 40-60%, which means that for every 100 people vaccinated, between 40 and 60 will be protected.

At risk people are advised to have annual flu jabs because flu strains can change from year to year, plus protection from the flu vaccine may wane after about six months.

Adults aged over 65, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions are advised to get a free flu jab.

A flu nasal spray is available free to young children, who are thought to be the main spreaders of flu.

Why does not it stop all strains?

Should I have a flu jab?

Is it flu?

Should I go to hospital?

Help stop the spread


Continue reading at BBC »