WHO infectious disease experts give dire winter flu prediction

Infectious disease experts have revealed Australia may be on the brink of an unprecedented flu season as the winter chill continues to bite.

Infectious disease experts have revealed why Australia may be on the brink of a flu season like no other as the winter chill continues to bite.

The insight was given at the BioMelbourne Network event on Friday morning, which discussed the key drivers for the 2022 flu season and potential economic impacts of the resurgence.

Dr Felicia Pradera, General Manager, Health Security Systems Australia, Medical Countermeasures Program Leader, said a range of lessons could be learned from the pandemic when treating the new flu challenge.

There were 65,775 confirmed cases of influenza across Australia in May, compared to the previous record of 30,372 cases, which was set in May 2019.

“Vaccines and treatments are important tools for managing infectious diseases and pandemics, but it’s important that we use all the tools at our disposal and develop a whole of system approach,” she said.

“This includes considerations like PPE, modelling and simulation, decision support tools, medical devices, surveillance, real world evidence and more.”

However, Dr Pradera also detailed the range of factors which will create a “perfect storm” for influenza to thrive during winter 2022.

These include a lack of mask wearing, greater contact between people and widespread international travel.

“We can take a number of lessons from Covid-19 to enable better response and recovery planning in relation to influenza and other pathogens,” she said.

“From improved real time data sharing, faster sharing of research and investing in the development of platform capabilities that can then be rapidly modified or trained to a target pathogen.

“There’s also greater potential for us to implement and leverage public-private partnerships, similar to Operation Warp Speed in the US, to ensure we can tackle Australia’s key health priorities.”

Professor Ian Barr, Deputy Director of WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza echoed this, noting how much influenza cases dropped off during the pandemic’s peak.

“Australia is really at the forefront of the fight against flu, with a number of the viruses in this year’s vaccines being isolated at the WHO labs here in Melbourne,” he said.

“Influenza is definitely back in the Southern Hemisphere in 2022. Countries like Argentina have seen similar outbreaks, while Brazil saw an outbreak of influenza A viruses in summer this year.

“In Australia, we’re seeing influenza A viruses dominate with very little circulation of influenza B viruses.”

Flu prevalence in Australia had been at historically low levels since April 2020.

But Professor Barr said this is likely to “change dramatically” as winter takes hold and Australians should be prepared for 2022 to be a flu season like no other.

Adding to the unique circumstances is ‘flurona,’ where the concurrent existence of Covid-19 and influenza presents new public health challenges.

A Victorian woman who passed away in May was the first known person to die with both viruses.

There have been three influenza-related deaths so far this year.

Originally published as ‘Perfect storm’: Infectious disease experts give dire winter flu prediction

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