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Aussie flu could kill as many as 1968 Hong Kong pandemic

 

The dreaded Aussie flu outbreak that the NHS is preparing for will be the worst in 50 years, experts have warned.

Some AE units in Australia had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a public health expert at Nottingham Trent University, said it is ‘inevitable’ it will reach Britain.

He said it could claim as many lives as the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1968, which killed at least one million people. 

The dreaded Aussie flu outbreak that the NHS is preparing for will be the worst in 50 years, experts have warned. Some AE units in Australia had 'standing room only' after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain

The dreaded Aussie flu outbreak that the NHS is preparing for will be the worst in 50 years, experts have warned. Some AE units in Australia had 'standing room only' after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain

The dreaded Aussie flu outbreak that the NHS is preparing for will be the worst in 50 years, experts have warned. Some AE units in Australia had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain

Some AE units in Australia had 'standing room only' after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain

Some AE units in Australia had 'standing room only' after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain

Some AE units in Australia had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain

Professor Dingwall told The Daily Express: ‘Based on the Australian experience public health officials need to meet and urgently review emergency planning procedures.

‘Public Health England should be working with local authorities and local health services to ensure more hospital beds are freed up. We need to be prepared, alert and flexible.

‘There is no point in trying to close the borders. It’s almost inevitable this will come to us.

‘This is potentially the worst winter since the Hong Kong flu outbreak of 1968.

‘Lots of people have been very badly affected in Australia and whilst their mortality rates are not out yet we suspect this is a more severe strain than most other years.’

More pressure on hospitals 

Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, warned that the virus could cause ‘much more pressure’ for hospitals and GP surgeries two weeks ago.

THE HONG KONG FLU OUTBREAK IN 1968

Between one and four million people were killed during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1968, figures estimate.

The H3N2 strain was responsible. This is the same strain that caused havoc in Australia during their winter.

The virus was noted for being highly contagious, with it infecting 500,000 people within two weeks of the first case.

Over the course of a year, it spread to Vietnam, Singapore, India, Australia, Europe, the US, Japan, Africa and South America.

Addressing the Health and Care Innovation Expo conference, he said: ‘The signs from the Southern Hemisphere winter have been that flu has been much higher and it has been the variety that puts the most pressure on the old people’s services like care homes.

‘If that reproduces itself here over this coming winter that is going to mean much more pressure on GP services and hospitals.’ 

Australia – whose winter occurs during our summer – had one of its worst outbreaks on record, with two and a half times the normal number of cases. 

Around 3,000 Australians die each year from flu, but figures are yet to confirm how many people have lost their lives to this year’s outbreak, but 73 are known to have died.

Last week, Professor Paul Van Buynder, chairman of the Immunisation Coalition, told news.com.au: ‘I’m confident this is not just the biggest on record but the largest flu outbreak we’ve seen for some time.’ 

Who is most at risk? 

The elderly with their compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to the H3N2 strain which has blighted Australia during the country’s winter. Eight residents died from the flu at one care home in Victoria. 

Figures also suggest there has been a spike in cases among children between the ages of five and nine. 

The flu season in the UK and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere tends to mirror what has happened in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.

The same strains of the virus will circulate north in time for the British flu season, which typically begins in November and lasts until March.

Some health experts in Australia have blamed the severe outbreak on the vaccine not matching, with figures suggesting it to have performed poorly

Some health experts in Australia have blamed the severe outbreak on the vaccine not matching, with figures suggesting it to have performed poorly

Some health experts in Australia have blamed the severe outbreak on the vaccine not matching, with figures suggesting it to have performed poorly

Vaccine concerns 

But there are concerns the vaccine, made by World Health Organisation scientists, will prove to be ineffective as it will not match the H3N2 strain. 

Scientists create the vaccines in March, based on which flu strains they expect to be in circulation. They are then given out in September. 

Some health experts in Australia have blamed the severe outbreak on the vaccine not matching, with figures suggesting it to have performed poorly, potentially due to it having mutated. The vaccine used in the UK will be very similar. 

Constantly mutating 

Flu viruses are constantly changing proteins on their surface to avoid detection by the body’s immune system – making it more deadly.

This transformation is called an ‘antigenic shift’ if it’s large enough, and can lead to a pandemic. This was responsible for the swine flu outbreak in 2009.

The Aussie flu is transforming quickly, but not fast enough for experts to describe it as a shift. However, it is slowly building up immunity.

Professor Robert Booy, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Sydney, said the strain will likely reach Britain.

He previously said: ‘What we are seeing in Australia at the moment could easily transmit to the UK because of the ease of global travel and tourism.’ 

Ineffective flu jabs  

In 2015, Government figures suggested that the winter flu played a part in more than 16,000 deaths. Only 577 deaths were recorded in the previous winter.

Health officials later admitted that the flu vaccine given to millions of patients the previous winter had been ineffective. 

Initial analysis by Public Health England showed it worked in just 3 per cent of cases, this was later revised up to 30 per cent of cases. 

Normally flu vaccines are effective against two thirds of cases so this was still substantially below average.   

WHERE CAN YOU GET THE FLU JAB?

Flu can be a serious illness. If you become very ill with it, it can cause complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle, and kidney failure.

People at most risk of serious illness or death if they get flu are offered the vaccine on the NHS. Ideally you should have this before the end of December, when flu peaks (it takes about two weeks after the jab for antibodies to develop completely).

At-risk groups include anyone aged 65 and over; people living in long-stay residential care homes; carers and pregnant women.

The vaccine is also offered to anyone aged six months to 65 years with certain conditions, such as diabetes.

It is available via your GP’s surgery.

All children aged two to eleven (on August 31, 2017) are also offered the vaccine as a nasal spray. The UK introduced the child vaccination programme in 2013 — last year, the vaccine had 66 per cent effectiveness. Australia does not have a similar programme.

If you don’t qualify to have the jab on the NHS, you can pay to get it at a pharmacy.

Well Pharmacy charges £9 to £14 (depending on the number of strains in the vaccine), Superdrug from £9.99, Lloyds Pharmacy £10, Boots £12.99, and Tesco £9.

Older children who fall outside the NHS scheme can get the nasal spray vaccine from some pharmacies such as Well (£23 for those aged between two and 18; this may involve a second dose at least four weeks later for another £23) and the injection for those 12 and over for £9.

Boots offers the jab to those aged 16 and over at £12.99. Tesco offers it to those 12 and over at £9. 

 

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