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Have you noticed Australia’s flu seasons seem to be getting worse? Here’s why

Have you noticed Australia’s flu seasons seem to be getting worse? Here’s why

There was an item on last night's TV news claiming that this year's flu season in Australia is shaping up to be the worst for some time. Heath Kelly, Professor (Adjunct) in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at Australian National University has a countering view for reasons he goes into here:

It seems that GPs may not necessarily notify the relevant authorities when they encounter a patient with an influenza like illness (which may or may not be the flu) and there is an increasing proportion of notifications from testing laboratories over the last 10 years, which has flattened out in the last 5 years.

The big peaks in the Google Flu Trends plots for 2009, 2012 and 2014, (which is a proxy method of monitoring influenza) correlate with the peaks in the 'Influenza like illness' plots in the article, not the actual notifications:

That makes sense, because people will search for flu symptoms and remedies if they have a flu like illness.

Note the statement in the summary of referenced in Heath Kelly's article. "Over 80% of the influenza B viruses characterised are a match to the trivalent vaccine strain; the remaining influenza B viruses match the additional strain in the quadrivalent vaccine." On that basis, having the free flu vaccination for those 65 or older or those with a compromised immune system e.g. caused by CLL, will protect you against 80% of the influenza strains circulating in Australia and paying for the quadrivalent vaccine will protect you against all of the current strains.

While it seems that there are "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics" (origin uncertain), irrespective of whether the flu or a flu like illness is more prevalent, I'd recommend that if you have CLL/SLL or care with someone with it, you should have an annual flu vaccination, keep your distance from anyone with an apparent respiratory infection and wash your hands frequently, while avoiding touching your mouth, nose or eyes with your hands unless you have just washed your hands.

Stay safe this winter cold and flu season!


2 Replies

Hi Neal,

I had a normal flu vaccine given at Drs surgery. Do I therefore need to ask for a Quadrivalent vaccine now to cover me for the rest of the Bvirus strains?

Also my grown up son is staying with me for an unknown period should I persuade him to get a flu vaccine to protect me.

I am concerned about influenza as when I got it in 2012 it set me on the road to chemo.

Sheila in freo


Hi Sheila,

That's a very astute question. The same thought occurred to me, but I'm living in a remote location, so my risk of infection is low. I don't know whether the mix of flu strains is the same where you live as those referenced in the Flu Report. If your GP knows that information, it might help you decide. Also, bear in mind that your ability to actually benefit from the flu vaccination will be reduced somewhat because you have CLL and you've had treatment for your CLL. I still think it is worth us having the vaccination, because it may protect some of us and it makes it very hard to argue that others living with us should have it if we don't!

And that brings us to the second part of your question - whether you should persuade your son to get the flu vaccine. He is obviously a possible vector of infection to you, with that risk increasing in proportion to the number of people he regularly mixes with. Theoretically, he could even get one of the flu strains and have it mildly, perhaps not even being aware that he has it, but pass it on to you and you could end up very ill - and he may not even be aware that he was the source of infection. I'd recommend that your son have the quadrivalent vaccine and if the cost is an issue, perhaps you could help out with the expense. After all, it's low risk cheap insurance!

Good luck!



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