The 2023 flu season has already made headlines with claims that there have been 100 times more influenza cases in the first two months than last year. In early 2022, flu cases were artificially low due to COVID-19 measures such as border closures, quarantining, social distancing, and mask-wearing. This resulted in fewer opportunities for people to mingle and spread the influenza virus. The rate of flu in 2023 is very similar to pre-COVID years, as reported by ABC News.
Despite this, there may be an autumn surge in Australia due to late-season influenza B activity in the northern hemisphere. The severity of the upcoming season will be influenced by the types of influenza that circulate when the surge starts and when the season peaks. It’s recommended to plan to get vaccinated, as only 40% of those eligible were vaccinated against influenza in 2022.
Breaking Down the Figures
There were 8,474 confirmed cases of influenza in the first two months of 2023, while there were only 79 cases in the same period in 2022. Although this year’s statistics appear to be more than 100 times greater than last year’s, there is no need to panic.
Similar to pre-COVID years, the number of confirmed cases of influenza in 2022 is only a small portion of the real cases of the virus. Numerous individuals do not seek medical treatment when they have influenza, or their general practitioner may not always test them for it.
What is Flu in Australia?
Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The virus infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.
Symptoms of influenza
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhoea, although these symptoms are more common in children than adults. The severity of symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can lead to complications.
In Australia, the flu season typically occurs from May to October, with the season’s peak usually around August. Each year, the flu strains circulating in Australia are monitored by health authorities, who then recommend which strains should be included in the flu vaccine for the following year. Vaccination is recommended for everyone aged six months and older, particularly those at higher risk of developing severe illness from the flu, including pregnant women, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.
Factors Affecting the Severity of the 2023 Flu Season
The severity of the flu season is influenced by various factors that can impact the rate and intensity of influenza outbreaks. Factors such as the:
- type of influenza virus that is circulating
- timing of the flu surge and when the season peaks
- effectiveness, uptake, and timing of vaccinations
- degree of remaining herd immunity in the population.
In particular, the types of influenza viruses most prevalent during the flu season can significantly impact the outbreak’s severity. Additionally, the timing of the flu surge and season peaks can vary from year to year, depending on factors such as climate and the spread of the virus.
Late-season influenza B activity in the northern hemisphere has been observed, one type of influenza that causes seasonal flu. This has resulted in travellers bringing influenza to Australia over several months.
This activity can lead to an autumn surge in Australia, similar to the previous year’s surge when influenza cases rose sharply in May and peaked in June. This is two months earlier than the five-year average pre-COVID.
Complications Associated with Flu
While most people recover from the flu without complications, it can lead to serious health problems, especially those with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions. Here are some of the common flu-related complications:
Infection of the lungs can be life-threatening, especially in older adults, young children, and people with weakened immune systems.
Inflammation of the bronchial tubes can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Sinus and ear infections
Infections of the sinuses and ears can be painful and may require medical treatment.
A potentially life-threatening condition where the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection, leading to tissue damage and organ failure.
Myocarditis and pericarditis
Inflammation of the heart muscle and the lining around the heart can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and abnormal heart rhythms.
In rare cases, the flu virus can cause brain inflammation, seizures, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain tissue).
Worsening of chronic medical conditions
The flu can exacerbate pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
Emergency Scenarios and First Aid Skills
Complications from the flu can lead to various emergency scenarios:
- respiratory failure
- neurological issues.
These complications can be life-threatening in severe cases, and prompt medical attention is necessary.
As a first responder, it’s essential to know basic first aid skills to manage flu-related emergencies, which include the following but are not limited to:
- providing oxygen therapy
- monitoring vital signs
- administering intravenous fluids
- performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary.
Emotional support to the patient and their family is crucial during these stressful situations. However, it’s important to note that managing flu-related emergencies should be left to healthcare professionals, and calling emergency medical services should be the top priority.
Being qualified in CPR and first aid can be crucial in emergencies related to the flu and its complications. CPR First Aid Australia RTO NO 21903 provides comprehensive training that can equip you with the necessary skills to save a life potentially. Whether you’re a healthcare professional or a concerned citizen, taking a CPR course can be valuable to your safety and those around you. Remember, being prepared can make all the difference in a crisis.
Stay Healthy and Safe
To avoid contracting the flu, there are several precautions you can take. The most important is to get vaccinated against the flu. By doing so, your chances of catching the virus will decrease substantially, and if you do fall ill, the symptoms’ intensity may also lessen.
Practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also essential by eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and engaging in regular exercise. These habits can help boost your immune system and reduce your risk of getting sick.
In addition, if you do get sick, it’s important to stay home and rest to avoid spreading the virus to others. By taking these simple steps, you can help protect yourself and those around you during the flu season in Australia.