Has seasonal flu disappeared?

Seasonal flu occupational health news

A Remarkable Reduction in Flu Cases

As our annual flu season starts in the Northern Hemisphere, it may be worth casting our eyes to our friends and neighbours in the Southern Hemisphere, to take a peek at their recent experiences.

Every year in the Southern Hemisphere, usually from around May to October, influenza rolls between Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and everywhere in between. The strains of virus circulating in the Southern Hemisphere at this time are the basis for the vaccines used each winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Global Picture

The World Health Organisation (WHO) tracks flu cases in member countries ever year. It has done so for nearly 70 years. In the first two weeks of August this year, the WHO tracked 200,000 influenza tests in laboratories in the Southern Hemisphere. Historically, they have found between 3-4,000 positive cases in the same period each year, going back decades. This year they found 46 positive cases.

It is reasonable to propose that the decline in reported cases may be due to external factors, such as reduced testing capacity, because laboratories worldwide are focussed on COVID-19. However, solid date does exist from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina. All show a remarkable picture of positive flu cases dropping to record lows.

The Numbers Drop

The data from Australia shows a particularly illuminating picture. Since 2015 between 80,000 and 90,000 flu cases have been reported every year. Just over a hundred people sadly lose their lives to the virus every year. This year a total of 627 cases have been registered with one confirmed death.

Although the WHO say the data needs to be interpreted with caution, perhaps with notable understatement, they report that “globally, influenza activity was reported at lower levels than expected for this time of the year.”

They also report that “the various hygiene and physical distancing measures implemented by Member States to reduce SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission have likely played a role in reducing influenza virus transmission.”

Knock-on Effects

Although the dramatic reduction in cases is a good thing, it sadly doesn’t come without risks. Cases may well rise still this year and potentially even more so next year, as far fewer people than usual will have developed immunity. That means it is still just as important as ever to get vaccinated, this year and next year.

COVID has blighted all our lives and many knock-on effects are still being discovered, including it seems, the near elimination of flu this year.

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