During the pandemic years, there were only a few cases of influenza, but this fall the influenza epidemic could be very severe. A look at Australia shows that, where the influenza has returned with full force.
Keep your distance, wear a mask, fewer contacts, travel restrictions, pay attention to hygiene – these measures have not only affected the spread of the corona virus. Influenza has also been massively contained in the past pandemic years. But experts predicted a comeback of the flu at the beginning of the year if measures such as the obligation to wear masks were dropped.
For Germany, the wave of flu in Australia is a harbinger of how the influenza season could turn out in autumn. The extremely low flu cases in the last two winters were no surprise for Europe. But this flu season could be much worse again. In Australia, the flu epidemic picked up speed early this year. From the beginning of the year to May 22, there were already almost 39,000 cases of influenza in Australia, according to the latest report (reporting period to May 22, 2022) from the Department of Health. There were more than 26,000 cases in the past 14 days until the report was published. The numbers are already higher than the five-year average. For example, as of November 2021, only 600 influenza cases had been counted. Three people have died so far.
Flu season Down Under as bad as 2017
“The flu season this year is very bad and comparable to the season we had in 2017,” Queensland Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk told ABC News. The 2017/2018 flu season was also very strong in Germany. At that time, an estimated 25,100 people in Germany died from influenza. “This is the highest number of deaths in the past 30 years,” emphasized Lothar H. Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in a statement on the flu deaths at the time.
What a look down under reveals: young people and children in particular have been infected with the influenza virus in Australia. Almost half of the flu cases affect children under the age of 16, around 30 percent of those infected are between 16 and 64 years old. And around 20 percent of influenza cases fall in the age group over 65 years. The flu is particularly dangerous for older people. According to the RKI, deaths from influenza are mainly limited to the older age groups. The three people who died in Australia were aged 87 to 92.
Children and young people in Australia are particularly affected
“We have about 600,000 children under the age of two who have never been exposed to the flu,” Sheena Sullivan, an epidemiologist at the Peter Doherty Institute, told ABC News. Sydney pediatrician Nick Wood said hospitals in Australia are already seeing an increase in cases of flu in young children. “Because the flu hasn’t been around, the children have never been exposed to the influenza viruses and are now effectively immune-naïve.” This means: Because the immune system has never had contact with flu viruses, the immune system does not yet know the virus and cannot react so quickly with defense mechanisms.
In Germany, too, the number of flu infections is already increasing. Initial data reveal that more people have contracted influenza than at the same time of year before the pandemic. However, the RKI currently sees no reason for concern.
Influenza is an acute respiratory illness. It is a serious illness that can be life-threatening. It cannot be compared to a “flu-like infection” or a cold – these are triggered by other viruses. According to the RKI, older people, people with previous illnesses and pregnant women have a higher risk of a severe course of the flu. In the case of severe influenza, patients often develop bacterial pneumonia. In children, middle ear infections are a common complication of the flu.
In Germany, the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends annual flu vaccination for people over the age of 60, for pregnant women from the second trimester, for those who are previously ill, for residents of old people’s homes and people who care for risk patients.
Sources: ABC News 1, ABC News 2, STIKO recommendations, report from the Australian Ministry of Health, RKI on influenza, RKI notification, RKI AG influenza infection protection