Infectious disease experts have revealed that Australia could be on the verge of an unprecedented flu season as winter cold continues to take its toll.
Infectious disease experts have revealed why Australia could be on the verge of a flu season like no other as the winter cold continues to take its toll.
Insight was provided on Friday morning at the BioMelbourne Network event, which discussed the key drivers of the 2022 flu season and the potential economic impacts of the resurgence.
Dr Felicia Pradera, General Manager, Health Security Systems Australia, Medical Countermeasures Program Leader, said a number of lessons could be learned from the pandemic in treating the new flu challenge.
In May, 65,775 cases of influenza were confirmed across Australia, up from the previous record of 30,372 cases, set in May 2019.
“Vaccines and treatments are important tools for managing infectious diseases and pandemics, but it is important to use all the tools at our disposal and develop a whole systems approach,” he said.
“This includes considerations like PPE, modeling and simulation, decision support tools, medical devices, surveillance, real-world testing and more.”
However, Dr Pradera also detailed the range of factors that will create a “perfect storm” for influenza prosperity during winter 2022.
These include a lack of mask wear, increased contact between people, and widespread international travel.
“We can draw a number of lessons from Covid-19 to enable better response and recovery planning in relation to influenza and other pathogens,” he said.
“From better real-time data sharing, to faster research sharing and investment in developing platform functionality that can then be quickly modified or trained to a target pathogen.
“There is also greater potential for us to implement and leverage public-private partnerships, similar to Operation Warp Speed in the US, to ensure we can address Australia’s key health priorities.”
Professor Ian Barr, deputy director of WHO’s Center for Collaboration and Research on Influenza, echoed this, noting how many cases of influenza declined during the peak of the pandemic.
“Australia is really at the forefront of the fight against the flu, with a number of viruses in this year’s vaccines isolated in WHO labs here in Melbourne,” he said.
“The flu has definitely returned to the Southern Hemisphere in 2022. Countries like Argentina have seen similar outbreaks, while Brazil saw an influenza A virus outbreak in the summer of this year.
“In Australia, we are seeing influenza A viruses dominate with very little circulation of influenza B viruses.”
The prevalence of influenza in Australia was at historically low levels as of April 2020.
But Professor Barr said this is likely to “fundamentally change” with the arrival of winter and Australians should be prepared for 2022 like a flu season like no other.
To the unique circumstances is added the “flurona”, in which the simultaneous existence of Covid-19 and flu presents new challenges for public health.
A Victorian woman who died in May was the first known person to die from both viruses.
There have been three flu-related deaths so far this year.
Originally published as ‘Perfect Storm’: Infectious disease experts provide dire predictions for winter flu