.

  • Written by Ian Barr, Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza
The impact of the flu on a population can be measured by looking at figures including cases, hospitalisations and deaths. From shutterstock.com

From early this year it’s been apparent the 2019 Australian influenza “season” was going to be different. Normally, the flu season coincides with the winter months of July and August, sometimes stretching to September and October.

But this year, things have happened much earlier, with a record number of influenza cases reported in summer and autumn.

So what’s been happening, and is it really as bad as the media have been reporting? Here we look at some of the latest data on cases and their outcomes to see if it is indeed “a horror flu season”.



The impact of influenza on the community is measured in several ways. The most basic measure is to simply count the number of cases of people presenting to their GP with influenza-like illness.

Sometimes the doctor will take a swab, and these are tested in the laboratory to confirm that influenza virus is present (it’s possible another respiratory virus or bacteria might be causing the flu-like symptoms).


Read more: The 2019 flu shot isn't perfect – but it's still our best defence against influenza


Cases of influenza-like illness were increasing in early March, peaked in early June, and are now decreasing. Laboratory confirmed cases (the results of which we see in the above chart) show a similar trend. We haven’t included July in this chart because it’s not finished yet, but we’re still seeing a high number of cases into July.

Compared to previous years, 2019 looks like a big year with more than 120,000 cases of lab confirmed influenza up to the end of June. But it’s not nearly as bad as 2017, which had more than 250,000 cases reported to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) by the end of the year. As this season occurred much later than 2019’s, 2017 had only 24,000 cases reported up to July 7.

The good news is that as the 2019 season started earlier, it’s also likely to finish earlier than usual. This is because once the main influenza season starts, it usually ends around 12-16 weeks later, when the number of susceptible people drops below the level required to maintain efficient circulation.

FluCAN (via Department of Health Influenza Surveillance Report), CC BY-ND

Another measure of how severe the influenza season is can be gauged by the number of hospitalisations, including admissions to ICU (intensive care units).

Hospital admissions show from April 1 to June 30 this year, there have been 1,309 admissions to the Australian sentinel surveillance hospitals (a number of hospitals where flu admissions are tracked each year).

This figure is much higher than previous years at the same time point. In 2018, there were 90 admissions, and in 2017, 311. But in 2017 the season arrived much later and more seriously and ultimately resulted in 3,969 admissions for that year.


Read more: Kids are more vulnerable to the flu – here's what to look out for this winter


It’s also useful to look at the proportion of people attending hospital with influenza infections who are admitted directly to ICU. In 2019 it’s been 6.7% of admissions compared to 2018 (a mild influenza year) with 8.1% of admissions, and 2017 (a very severe year) with 8.9% of admissions.

The 2019 ICU rate is at the lower end of historical figures which range from 8.7% in 2015 to 14.2% in 2013. By this measure, the 2019 season is of a similar severity to that seen in previous seasons and is therefore not exceptional.

While hospital admissions can be measured relatively easily, measuring deaths due to influenza is more complicated for a few reasons. The flu often paves the way for secondary bacterial infections, like pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalisation and death, particularly in the elderly. When this happens, it can be difficult to link death directly to an earlier influenza infection.

And, death data is often very delayed. So readily available death data collected by the NNDSS is considered a significant underestimate of the actual number.

To the end of June 2019, there were 231 influenza-related deaths reported to the NNDSS. Virtually all of these were due to the influenza A strain. They spanned all ages, but most deaths were in the elderly (80 years and older).


Read more: Sick with the flu? Here's why you feel so bad


This compares to 24 and 21 deaths over the same period in 2018 and 2017 respectively. But these figures grew to 55 deaths and 598 deaths reported by the end of 2018 and 2017 respectively.

Clearly 2019 is more severe than 2018, based on the measures detailed above, but at this stage it looks like it will be less severe than 2017. However, we’ll need to wait for a number of weeks yet to be sure.

When we look at what’s happened in each state of Australia so far this year, we see some interesting differences in how the season has played out. Most states began to see significant rises in cases in April, while South Australia had already peaked in April and this number of cases was maintained into May. This means that most other states still have a number of weeks of influenza circulation to endure.



People of all ages are susceptible to influenza, and this is reflected in the wide range of ages at which people are infected. Young children (especially those under 10 years of age) and the elderly (especially those over 80 years of age) are more susceptible, and are often more severely affected by influenza infections – as are pregnant women.

Interestingly, different types of influenza affect different age groups, with influenza B and influenza A(H1N1) more common in the young and influenza A(H3N2) more common in the elderly.


Read more: Here's why the 2017 flu season was so bad


At this stage we can conclude that the 2019 influenza season is quite different to our usual seasons and overall, is likely to be one of the more severe seasons seen in the last 20 years.

So while 2019 doesn’t appear to be the worst season we’ve ever seen – that’s likely to remain with 2017 – it may well run a close second place. But we’ll have to wait another month or two before we can be sure.

Ian Barr and the Melbourne WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza is supported by the Australian Government Department of Health.

Authors: Ian Barr, Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza

Read more http://theconversation.com/its-a-bad-year-for-flu-but-its-too-early-to-call-it-the-worst-ever-5-charts-on-the-2019-season-so-far-120093

Plants are going extinct up to 350 times faster than the historical norm

Plant extinctions have skyrocketed, driven in large part by land clearing and climate change. Graphic Node/Unsplash, CC BY-SAEarth is seeing an unprecedented loss of species, which some ecologists are...

Jaco Le Roux, Associate Professor, Macquarie University - avatar Jaco Le Roux, Associate Professor, Macquarie University

Vital Signs: economically, Australia is at risk of becoming Germany, and not in a good way

Once, emulating Germany would be something to be proud of. Not at the moment. ShutterstockIt’s four years since then Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned Australia had been heading to “a Gree...

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW - avatar Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

'What is wrong with me? I'm never happy and I hate school'

Remember, there is always someone to talk to about these things. Wes Mountain Hi, I was just wondering if something’s wrong with me because I’m never happy and never want to do anything a...

Louise Remond, Clinical Psychologist, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Louise Remond, Clinical Psychologist, University of Technology Sydney

Friday essay: how a Bengali book in Broken Hill sheds new light on Australian history

The large book bearing a handwritten English label, 'The Holy Koran', was not a Quran, but a 500-page volume of Bengali Sufi poetry. Samia KhatunSome 1,000 kilometres inland from Sydney, over the Blu...

Samia Khatun, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London - avatar Samia Khatun, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London

Unlawful strip searches are on the rise in NSW and police aren’t being held accountable

Being strip searched by the police can be intrusive, humiliating and harmful. Typically, strip searches involve being required to strip naked in front of police officers, who often give the direction ...

Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law, UNSW - avatar Vicki Sentas, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law, UNSW

How to make good arguments at school (and everywhere else)

There are more important things than winning an argument – like making everyone feel valued. www.shutterstock.comFrom as early as Grade 3 teachers start teaching children how to put across thei...

Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland - avatar Luke Zaphir, Researcher for the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project; and Online Teacher at Education Queensland's IMPACT Centre, The University of Queensland

GM crops: to ban or not to ban? That's not the question

The South Australian government recently announced its intention to lift the long-standing statewide moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops, following a statutory six-week consultation period. ...

Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History and Philosophy, and Deputy Dean Research (Faculty of Arts), University of Adelaide - avatar Rachel A. Ankeny, Professor of History and Philosophy, and Deputy Dean Research (Faculty of Arts), University of Adelaide

Grattan on Friday: Courting 'quiet Australians' from 'bubble central', it's been a remarkable first year for Scott Morrison

Can Scott Morrison maintain the image of separation from the Canberra elite, given he's its most powerful member? AAP/The ConversationEven Scott Morrison, with his abundant self-belief, couldn’t...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Trust Me, I’m An Expert: Why the Hong Kong protesters feel they have nothing to lose

Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people again took to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against the government – the 11th straight weekend of demonstrations that began in June over a pro...

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling - avatar Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling

We need a national renewables approach, or some states – like NSW – will miss out

In the absence of federal policy, states are pursing their own renewable targets. Karsten Würth/UnsplashAustralia’s primary federal renewable energy target – to have 33 terawatts of r...

Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne - avatar Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne

A Hippocratic Oath for data science? We’ll settle for a little more data literacy

Bias in, bias out: many algorithms have inherent design problems. Vintage Tone/Shutterstock I swear by Hypatia, by Lovelace, by Turing, by Fisher (and/or Bayes), and by all the statisticians and data ...

Lewis Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide - avatar Lewis Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide

Australia's latest military commitment should spark assessment of how well we use our defence forces

Just when we thought Australia was getting serious about shifting priorities away from the Middle East to its own neighbourhood, the prime minister has announced another Middle East step up. Australia...

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University - avatar John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

Australia bans video games for things you'd see in movies. But gamers can access them anyway

A screenshot from survival videogame DayZ. Bohemia InteractiveIn the last three months, the Australian Classification Board has “refused classification” for at least four video games &ndas...

Brendan Keogh, ARC DECRA Fellow, Queensland University of Technology - avatar Brendan Keogh, ARC DECRA Fellow, Queensland University of Technology

Victorian changes to gender on birth certificate will not increase sexual violence. Here's why

Under the proposed changes, TGD people in Victoria can change the gender on their birth certificate without having to undergo medical intervention. ShutterstockThe Victorian government is considering ...

Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne - avatar Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Melbourne

What kind of state values a freeway's heritage above the heritage of our oldest living culture?

The government intends to destroy Djab Wurrung sacred trees and sites to upgrade the Western Highway at the same time as it seeks heritage status for the Eastern Freeway. Allies Decolonising/gofundmeT...

Libby Porter, Professor of Urban Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University - avatar Libby Porter, Professor of Urban Planning, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

Why full-fat milk is now OK if you're healthy, but reduced-fat dairy is still best if you're not

The Heart Foundation now backs full-fat milk if you're healthy. But it still recommends reduced-fat milk if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. from www.shutterstock.comThe Heart Foundation...

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle - avatar Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

Tim Fischer – a man of courage and loyalty – dies from cancer

Tim Fischer aboard a one-off passenger train last month to raise money for the Albury Wodonga Cancer Centre trust fund. Sally Evans/ Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre Trust FundFormer deputy prime...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil choke point in the world. Use our interactive map to explore it

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDAfter months of increasing tension between Iran and the US, on Tuesday the Morrison government committed a warship, surveillance aircraft and about 200 troops t...

Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor - avatar Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor

Greenland isn't Denmark's to sell: some essential reading for Trump on colonialism

The coast of Greenland is not for sale. ShutterstockDonald Trump is not the first US President to make an offer of buying Greenland from Denmark – but he might be the last. Home of some 56,00...

Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster - avatar Felicity Jensz, Research associate professor, University of Münster

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

A Guide for Tenants

The cost of purchasing a home has been increasing, and the size of deposits needed, make buying pr...

Top ways for men to look after their skin

According to Jack Simmons, from Aboutmen, more and more men are taking pride in their appearance a...

Top 10 Caravan Storage Tips & Tricks

Taking caravan trips is a popular Aussie pastime, but if you have spent more than a few days in ...

5 Meaningful Gifts Your Mother Would Simply Love

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to amaze the person who loves you the most with a thoughtful gift? Why ...