The last thing most Americans and Europeans are thinking about at this time of year is influenza. This is not flu season! And most people have put worries about COVID-19 behind them. Over the last several years rates of influenza have been amazingly low. Precautions taken against COVID infections may have had some impact on the transmission of the flu. Why then should we think about influenza at all when the weather is warm and influenza is at a low point? The answer is AUSTRALIA! The Aussies are having a very bad flu season this winter!
What’s Happening in the Southern Hemisphere?
We often look to Australia for signs of the coming flu season. In January, 2023 we wrote:
“We track influenza in the southern hemisphere quite closely. That’s because flu season is always six months ahead in Australia and New Zealand. (January is a great time to visit those countries because it is their summer.) The H3N2 type-A strain of influenza increased sharply in Australia (aka Oz) in early May and peaked there in mid-June. That was two months earlier than usual.”
Then the flu season just fizzled out. It had very little impact on Australia and New Zealand.
Guest what? Influenza in the US during 2022-2023 was not a big deal either! Just like in the southern hemisphere, influenza peaked early. By January, cases of influenza had dropped like a rock. Just take a look at the CDC’s chart at this link.
Australia Is Now Experiencing a Bad Flu Season!
It is currently winter down under, and flu is hitting hard there. Influenza started early and children appear to be especially vulnerable.
The latest Australian Influenza Surveillance Report (# o4, 2023) states:
- “Influenza-like-illness (ILI) activity in the community has continued to increase this fortnight.
- Across almost all jurisdictions, the number of notifications of laboratory-confirmed influenza has increased this fortnight.”
The Aussies are cautious folks, but in their preliminary report the vaccine match and effectiveness seems promising:
- “Of the 952 samples referred to the WHOCC in the year-to-date, 96.4% of influenza A(H1N1) isolates, 74.2% of influenza A(H3N2) isolates, and 98.5% of influenza B/Victoria isolates characterised were antigenically similar to the corresponding vaccine components.
- It is too early to assess vaccine match and effectiveness for this season.”
Will the US Have a Bad Flu Season 2023-2024?
The US does not always follow the same path as the Australians and New Zealanders. That said, we must pay close attention to what is happening in the southern hemisphere!
Right now, the public health authorities in Oz are reporting case numbers that are greater than their five-year averages. That does not bode well for us. This may be a good year to get a flu shot early in the fall, before the virus starts to spread. That means in about five to six months you may want to get your jab.
We Are Usually Flu Shot Skeptics!
We rarely beat the drum for influenza vaccines. That’s because in a typical year the flu shot is not all that effective. Here is a link that I think you will find extremely relevant. It compares the effectiveness of vaccines against influenza, polio, smallpox, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis).
I have every intention of getting a flu shot this year. That’s because if we have a bad flu season I do not want to risk serious consequences.
Check out our recent article about HMPV at this link. Most people never heard of human metapneumovirus. We certainly were unfamiliar with this respiratory infection. But we caught it in mid-March during a family gathering in Colorado. It was awful!
Dozens of people responded that they too had a horrific respiratory tract infection this spring. Leslie shared this story:
“In April I came down with a terrible upper respiratory ‘cold’ that developed into pneumonia. Extreme fatigue and a huge nasty cough were the two most irritating symptoms. Treatment recommendation was the same as for any virus infection, and I did exactly as told, only to have the pneumonia really knock me down. It took well into May to recover and I still have fatigue. Many sympathetic wishes for those who are suffering!”
You can read many other horror stories about HMPV lung infections at this link.
Last Year Was Not a Bad Flu Season:
We have been very lucky for the last three years. COVID-19 was nasty, but influenza virtually disappeared. Don’t let that good news lull you into a false sense of security. Remember, during 2020 and 2021 people were urged to stay home, wear masks, maintain distance from others and wash hands frequently.
I cannot prove to you that those measures reduced the likelihood of catching influenza, but I cannot think of any better explanation. Remember, influenza is transmitted through the air, just like the coronavirus. When someone in the checkout lane in front of you coughs, sneezes or just breathes, you will end up inhaling some of the aerosolized particles. If they are infected with influenza, there is a decent chance you will catch it.
One More Reason to Get a Flu Shot:
Even if it is not a bad flu season, there is one more reason to consider an influenza vaccination. There are a few studies that suggest a flu shot just might help protect older people from dementia as well as pneumonia.
I know that sounds overly enthusiastic, but please check out the data before dismissing this idea out of hand. Here is a link to our article titled:
You will find links to scientific studies reinforcing this idea. There is a growing recognition that viral infections can have a profound impact on brain function. Just ask someone who is suffering from long COVID! The brain fog and cognitive impairment are devastating.
We know it is way too early to tell if we will have a bad flu season this year and next. Because we pay close attention to what is happening in the southern hemisphere, we are alerting you to the possibility that it could get rough come November and December. Stay tuned for more data from Australia as it becomes available.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Did you catch a respiratory tract infection this spring? What was it like? Do you think you caught HMPV? Sadly, there is no vaccine against this virus.