Sydney: Australia’s two-year drop in influenza cases have ended as flu numbers are on the rise ahead of winter here.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, when large sections of the population were in lockdown and international borders were closed, flu numbers plummeted to record lows, Xinhua news agency reported.
Urging people to get inoculated against influenza, experts noted that the flu cases will rise in the coming months while Covid lingers on.
That was the message at an online journalist briefing hosted by the science-based website Scimex on Wednesday, where leading epidemiologists and immunologists discussed what the next few months could hold.
Prof. Catherine Bennett, the chairperson of Epidemiology at Deakin University, said that with international borders having reopened, there was “no way” Australia would avoid a rise in flu cases.
Bennett also stated that many people, having not encountered the highly contagious flu virus for a long time, could now be even more susceptible.
That is because previously when flu was widespread in Australia even unvaccinated people could have gained a partial immunity from having been exposed to the virus from those around them.
“People really need to understand the importance of protecting themselves against both these viruses (flu and Covid),” Bennett said.
Health authorities are especially keen for the community’s most vulnerable members, which includes pregnant women, children aged under five and people aged over 65 and those with weakened immune systems, to get their flu jabs.
“Everyone six months and older is recommended to get a flu jab but particularly those high-risk groups, as the virus is extremely contagious and potentially deadly,” said Dr. Richard Broome, NSW Health Executive Director of Health Protection.
Just how serious it will become, however, remains open to speculation with specialists such as microbiologist Dr. Paul Griffin from the University of Queensland (UQ) telling Xinhua on Wednesday that there were some mitigating factors which might reduce its severity.
“One thing working in our favour is that some people will continue to adhere to behaviours they adapted during the pandemic,” Griffin said.
“So they will continue to wear masks, regularly wash their hands and be more aware of the contagious risks of large crowds.
“But on the other side of the equation, many of us didn’t get around to getting flu shots for the past few years and so we need to remind people that getting vaccinated is extremely important.”
The return of the flu has, in fact, already begun with the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance having recorded 409 flu cases in March alone compared to only 509 cases throughout 2021.
The experts also noted that it is mid-autumn in Australia and the height of the flu season will be in winter.