Healthcare settings could face a longer and more impactful flu season this year, an infectious disease professor has warned, as flu cases in Australia begin to surge.
Nearly 8,500 flu cases have been confirmed in Australia since the start of 2023 – 100 times more than last year’s 79 reported cases, according to federal health data.
Influenza A subtype H3N2 is associated with higher hospitalisations and deaths and can cause severe illness, even in healthy adults.
Griffith University infectious diseases Professor Paul van Buynder said hospitals and primary care settings should prepare for a higher uptake of flu cases compared to the previous years.
“This variant is going to spread rapidly,” Van Buynder told Nursing Review.
“Subvariant H3N2 is the major one – every time, it leads to a longer flu season and more severe illness, especially among older and more vulnerable people.”
The influenza virus changes each year, affecting different groups of the population.
Last year, the flu season had a low impact on Australia due to Covid protective measures and the subtype.
Starting in April and ending in June, it impacted over 225,000 Australians and had a mortality rate of 0,14 per cent.
The subtype was especially mild on older people, affecting just under 20 per cent of those over 65 compared to other age groups.
Van Buynder said 2019 was the ‘last big flu year’ where variant H3N2 circulated.
The death ratio was higher than the five-year historic range and impacted 87 per cent of people over 65.
“If we combine Covid with the H3N3 variant, we’re likely going to see a dramatic mark on all Australians,” Van Buynder said.
“We’re still seeing a major impact of Covid on old persons.”
As of March 9, there have been 931 active Covid cases in 156 active outbreaks in residential aged care homes across Australia.
Van Buynder is calling on everyone at risk to get up-to-date with their Covid and flu boosters.
He also recommended mandating Covid and flu vaccinations for everyone working in aged care.
“Aged care should ensure that their residents have had a pneumonia vaccine as well as the flu vaccine,” he said.
“We need rules to ensure that people working in aged care facilities all have their influenza and their covid boosters, so they’re not bringing it to the facility to make things worse.”
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