The potentially deadly influenza strain – H3N2 – has rocked the UK in recent days, with the number of patients combating the virus rising 78 per cent in just a week, according to the Royal College of GPs.
In the latest Public Health England report, released on Thursday, it was revealed 598 people were hospitalised with flu during the second week of January, and almost 50 of those were infected with Aussie flu.
Several locations in the UK, including Herefordshire and York, are approaching “epidemic” levels.
Now scientists in Australia – who suffered their own crippling H3N2 flu pandemic last year, giving the strain of the virus its nickname – have revealed how outbreaks typically last for a gruelling 15 weeks – almost three months.
UK pharmacist Shamir Patel says that if the information is correct, it could spell prolonged agony for the beleaguered NHS.
Experts from the universities of Melbourne and Sydney combined to analyse a decade’s worth of stats about flu outbreaks ranging between 2006 and 2016.
In particular, they focused on the H3N2 and H1N1 ‘Swine Flu’ sub strains of flu, as well as the Victoria and Yamagata ‘influenza B virus’.
Lead author Edward Holmes, of the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, says the outbreaks were “highly synchronised”, peaking at similar times each year across various cities.
The outbreaks also lasted for similar durations each year.
Holmes said: “The highly synchronised outbreaks of influenza virus at a continental-scale revealed here highlight the importance of coordinated public health responses in the event of the emergence of a novel, human-to-human transmissible virus.”
In September this year, Australia emerged from its winter having had the most deadly influenza season for more than 10 years, predominantly involving influenza A strain H3N2 – aka ‘Aussie Flu’.
There were a staggering 170,000 influenza cases – twice that recorded in 2016 – and 72 flu-related deaths.
At the time medical experts told how flu vaccines usually only remain effective for one ‘season’, as the virus mutates and ‘drifts’.
Now Holmes, whose research has been published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, suggests the patterns he and his team have discovered will help authorities prepare for fresh outbreaks both in Australia and the rest of the world.
Leading UK pharmacist Shamir Patel says the Australian stats could offer a valuable prediction of how Britain’s own flu season might play out.
Mr Patel, director of online pharmacist Chemist-4-U, says: “Flu seasons are notoriously difficult to predict, as different strains and mutations come to the fore.
“In the next few weeks rates of infection may increase, level out or even decline – we simply don’t yet know.
“But the evidence offered here, particularly when it comes to the duration of typical outbreaks, could prove invaluable in ensuring the NHS is fully prepared for the worst case scenario this winter.
“It’s also important information for members of the public, too, showing they need to be vigilante in protecting themselves from the virus not just now, but for the foreseeable weeks and months.”
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