Flu season is officially upon us, but a new strain is sweeping the nation and it's “more severe” than swine flu, according to some experts. Here’s what ‘Australian flu’ really is, and whether you need to be worried…
What is Australian flu?
The official name of the flu circulating the UK this winter is H3N2, but it has recently been dubbed Australian – or Aussie – flu. This is because the same strain affecting the UK is similar to the type Australia suffered from earlier this year, during their own winter. H3N2 has proven stronger than some other strands, fuelling the worst flu crisis Australia had experienced for around two decades. Over 217,000 Australians had confirmed cases of the virus in 2017, which is double the previous record of just over 100,000 in 2015.
If you come down with flu this winter, it’s not necessarily Australian flu – other strands are circulating too, and they all have similar symptoms.
How serious is it?
Most of those affected by the virus will recover in around a week and won’t require specific treatment other than rest and painkillers, but the very old and very young could be at risk. 17 people were admitted to intensive care in the UK last week due to Australian flu, while in Australia more than 300 people are believed to have died as a result of it.
Despite the scaremongering headlines referencing swine flu, while hospitals and GP visits have seen a sharp rise in the UK because of the Australian flu virus, they’re still comparable to last winter and nowhere near as high as during the swine flu epidemic.
What are the symptoms?
As with other flu strands, common symptoms include:
Fever (temperature above 38°C)
Tiredness or exhaustion
Dry, chesty cough
Loss of appetite
Stomach pain or diarrhoea
Nausea and being sick
Should I get the flu jab?
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against contracting flu. Every year, the World Health Organization reviews the global situation and recommends which flu strains should go into the vaccine to be manufactured for the following season, so this season’s jab is designed to protect against H3N2 as well as some other strains.
The flu jab is not always effective though – just 40-60% of the time according to Public Health England. Still, people who are most at risk – adults aged over 65, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions – are advised to get a free annual flu jab because of the tendency for strains to change from year to year. A flu nasal spray is also freely available for young children, who are thought to be the main spreaders of flu.
When should I be worried?
You should contact your GP if your symptoms don't improve after seven days, you’re 65+, pregnant, or have a long-term medical condition (such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes or a neurological disease). You should also speak to your GP if you already have a weakened immune system – for example, due to HIV or chemotherapy.
If you develop a sudden chest pain, have difficulty breathing or start coughing up blood, call 999 or go to A&E.
How can people stop it spreading?
Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes which can live on hands and surfaces for up to 24 hours. You’re also more likely to catch it – or give it to others – in the first five days of them (or you) contracting it.
To reduce the risk of spreading flu:
Wash your hands often with warm water and soap – particularly after being on public transport
Use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
Bin your used tissues as quickly as possible