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Tags: flu | influenza | vaccinations | health | serious illness

Health Experts: Flu May Return With a Vengeance This Year

a woman has the flu
(Dreamstime)

By    |   Tuesday, 09 August 2022 09:04 AM EDT

The flu may be coming back stronger this year than before the COVID-19 pandemic if data coming from Australia is any indication, and children could be at risk of serious illness, health experts are warning.

"Flu cases increased at a very high rate and ended up being at the highest rate that they've seen in I'm not sure how long," Andy Pekosz, a virologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said of Australia, where the flu season runs from May through September, reports USA Today. "When cases (went) down, they stabilized at a higher baseline than what we saw pre-pandemic."

As in the United States, Australia had unusually low levels of flu during the pandemic, with just 400 cases of influenza reported by last year in mid-July. Further, the country's flu surveillance system reported no hospitalizations or deaths.

This year, however, flue cases have skyrocketed to almost 250,000 by mid-July, with 181 deaths. There were also approximately 1,500 hospitalizations, with 6.7% of those people being admitted directly to intensive care units.

"This might be an early warning system for us that this is the time now to start thinking about influenza," Dr. Gregg Sylvester, chief medical officer at Seqirus, a New Jersey-headquartered flu vaccine manufacturer, commented. "If we're not prepared … we could have a very naïve population, and we could see quite high rates."

Health experts say the increase in Australia could be because the country's flu season started earlier this year, with cases starting to grow as early as April, and Pekosz said there are also concerns that the flu season could likewise start early in the United States.

Meanwhile, Australia's reports are also making experts in the United States fear that school-aged children and teens could face particular risk this year. Typically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest risk for flu complications is in children younger than two years of age and adults who are older than 65.

Australia's flu report shows the highest rate of flu cases this year are in children ages 5-9, followed by children under the age of 4 and then teenagers.

Hospitalizations are also high among younger people, Sylvester noted, pointing out that "60 percent of the hospitalizations in Australia have come from pediatric age groups, 16 and under, and that's highly unusual."

The fact that younger people are marking a higher number of flu cases also shows the overall population is less protected against illness than before.

With flu numbers low over the past two years, most people were not exposed to influenza and did not build natural immunity to the virus, and that is also a problem, said Pekosz.

"That's also supported by the fact that usually when we see an early flu season, that means there's not a lot of immunity in the population," he added.

Pekosz acknowledged that people may be tired of hearing about vaccinations, whether for flu or COVID, but this year, getting both a flu shot and a COVID booster will give them the "maximum protection" this fall and winter.

Some pharmacies, such as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens, are already offering flu vaccinations, and medical experts are urging people to consider getting their shots sooner than later, but not to get them too early so the protection doesn't fade as flu season continues.

They recommend the shots be obtained in September and October, but said it is never too late to get a shot.

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Newsfront
The flu may be coming back stronger this year than before the COVID-19 pandemic if data coming from Australia is any indication, and children could be at risk of serious illness, health experts are warning.
flu, influenza, vaccinations, health, serious illness
580
2022-04-09
Tuesday, 09 August 2022 09:04 AM
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