As we near the start of flu season in the U.S., experts fear what they have seen in Australia during their current winter season, to be a hint of what’s to come here.
For a long time, experts have viewed Australia as a strong predictor of what might happen here in the U.S. This year Australia has been hit hard with one of the most severe flu seasons in recent years. So far in 2017, 168,337 influenza cases have been reported, compared to just under 91,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2015—As reported by Australia’s Immunization Coalition.
The organization noted that these figures are likely underestimated considering that most people are never tested for influenza and many cases have not yet been reported.
Dr. Hana El Sahly, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine reports, “The season in the southern hemisphere has been dominated by the H3N2 virus. This strain of influenza tends to be more severe."
“Usually the influenza season in the southern hemisphere serves as sort of a predictor of what’s going to happen in the northern hemisphere,” El Sahly added.
Flu strains are notorious for their unpredictability. They can mutate constantly and some strains can become more prevalent in various countries.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that at least 95 children were killed by flu in the 2016-2017 season and estimate that it kills between 4,000 and 50,000 people a year.
Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious diseases expert at Baylor concluded, "There is every reason to expect that we could have a severe flu season this year… It’s always hard to predict what is going to happen, but people should be prepared."