Article by
Dani Reiter
Updated
September 26th, 2019

Southern Hemisphere Flu News: August 12, 2019

Australian pharmacists may have reduced influenza season impact in 2019

western australian beach

In the Southern Hemisphere's temperate countries, flu activity appears to have peaked, says the World Health Organization (WHO) global flu update #347.

In Australia, influenza and influenza-like illness (ILI) activity are reported slightly higher (183,331 cases), than average for this time of the flu season, when compared to previous years.

However, the disparity between the 2019 flu season and previous years has been decreasing over the last few weeks, said the WHO on August 5, 2019.

Unfortunately, there have been 383 flu-related deaths reported in Australia in 2019.

In Australia, flu patterns are showing geographic variability, with H3N2 viruses most common, followed by influenza B. There is widespread influenza reports in NSW, SA, Perth and the Southern region of WA, the Australian Capital Territory, the Southern and Central regions of Queensland, TAS and Victoria.

Since hospital surveillance began on April 2019, a cumulative total of 34.1 percent of hospital beds available in FluCAN hospitals were occupied by patients with confirmed influenza. 

In the past 2-weeks, 3.1 percent of beds were occupied with patients with confirmed influenza, compared to 5.0 percent in the previous 2-weeks. 

This is within the normal range for the past 5 years, says the WHO. 

However, it is likely that a number of hospitals may have a backlog of cases, and it is expected that numbers may be revised upwards, said the Australian Government’s Department of Health on August 5, 2019.

The influenza virus strains included in the 2019 seasonal influenza vaccines in Australia are:

  • A/Michigan/45/2015, (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • A/Switzerland/8060/2017, (H3N2)-like virus
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus, Yamagata lineage
  • B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus, Victoria lineage

Another positive event may have enabled Australia to gain control of the 2019 flu season.

On June 19, 2019, the Western Australia (WA) Government announced it would allow trained pharmacists to administer influenza vaccination to patients aged 10 years and over.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook told ABC reporters, “We will take the vaccination regime for pharmacies from 18-year-olds down to 10-year-olds, consistent with what is occurring in other states, to make sure we improve our vaccination rates.

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And recently, a new study presented at the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand Annual Scientific Meeting 2019 found extending National Immunisation Program (NIP) to adults aged 50 to 64 is likely to be cost-beneficial to the Federal government.

These researchers said this expansion would ‘mean a cost-saving to the Government of $8.03 million with an incremental benefit-cost ratio of 1.40,’ reported the Australian Pharmacy Guild on August 12, 2019.  

Meanwhile, just east of Australia in New Zealand, the level of ILI fell to just below the seasonal threshold. And, seasonal influenza A viruses accounted for the majority of detections.

Additionally, in Southern Asia, influenza activity was low across reporting countries. And in South East Asia, an increase in influenza activity was observed in a few reporting countries. 

And in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere, influenza activity remained at interseasonal levels. 

“It is about time for the influenza viruses to become prevalent again. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks after vaccination for immunity to develop,” reminds Anh Le, Pharm D Candidate, Intern for Brookshires Grocery Company.

“So, get your flu shot as soon as it becomes available! This will help to prevent the virus from spreading by providing protection. The influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone from 6 months of age and older. Stop by your pharmacy or doctor office for more information,” said Le.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends prompt treatment for people who have influenza infection or suspected influenza infection and who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as young children.

A total of 127 influenza-associated pediatric deaths occurring during the 2018-2019 season have been reported to CDC as of July 5, 2019.

For adults at high risk of serious flu complications, treatment with antiviral drugs can mean the difference between milder or more serious illness possibly resulting in a hospital stay.

In the USA, most pharmacies offer antiviral flu medicines and various influenza vaccines.  

To help those without access to insurance programs, financial assistance programs can be found at Vaccine Discounts.