Australia is facing one of the worst flu seasons since 2009. In fact, there have been three times more hospitalizations than they get in a typical winter.
“We’re also seeing a lot of very ill people, and the Australians are reporting a fairly high mortality rate so they’re seeing a lot more people than they would normally expect this time of year who are dying from influenza as well,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University.
Australian health authorities are reporting there have been more than 200 deaths — and that number is climbing.
Right now, Dr. Evans says there is a lot of speculation as to how this outbreak happened.
“It could relate to people not taking their influenza vaccine. It could relate to the fact that the vaccine strain that we use doesn’t quite match up with the H3N2 which is causing most of the influenza in the southern hemisphere, but it could also be what we do see in the way of biological variability,” said Dr. Evans.
Experts worry this strain could make its way to Canada.
“Not always, but oftentimes the southern hemisphere’s experience with influenza will mirror what we’re going to see when influenza comes to the northern hemisphere in the fall months,” said Dr. Evans.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Get vaccinated. It might sound simple, but it’s important. The Ontario government has already ordered 300,000 more doses of flu vaccine than they did last year. This high dose has four times the amount of antigens than the regular flu shot.
Dr. Evans advises to make sure to get your flu shot — and get it early.
He said most pharmacies receive their flu vaccination shipment in October and getting your shot is simple. It’s as easy as walking into your local pharmacy and presenting you health card.
Ontario pharmacist Jason Hinton, meanwhile, says the ministry controls how many flu vaccines he can order. Last year, his pharmacy dispensed more than usual and ran out of vaccines in January.
“Our numbers were up from the year before. We did approximately 600 vaccinations, I think it was about 500 the year before — the flu vaccine is very accessible now,” said Hinton.
But even though you may have never had the flu, Hinton added, that doesn’t mean you never will.
“We’re getting prepared for the worst and hoping for the best and it’s possible that what we’re seeing in Australia is a bit of an aberration — maybe its not going to be what we see in the northern hemisphere — but I think everyone is doing their best to be prepared,” said Dr. Evans.
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