Experts urge vigilance as flu strain discoveries surge

Most of the new influenza strains have been detected in Asia.

Most of the new influenza strains have been detected in Asia. Photo: Getty

A dramatic increase in new influenza strains has sparked calls for governments and the public to take stronger precautions as flu season gets underway in Australia.

University of NSW researchers from the school of public health discovered seven new strains of influenza had appeared in humans in the past five years, in work published in the Archives of Public Health.

There have been only 19 separate strains discovered in the past 100 years.

Worryingly, the researchers warned the likelihood of a deadly global pandemic – like the Spanish Flu – is high unless governments do more to fight the spread.

This comes as figures showed Australia’s 2017 flu season had hit earlier and with more force than 2016.

The new discoveries – made mostly in Asia – do not relate to the increase in flu in Australia because these strains have not been detected on our shores.

They also were not passed from human to human, only from bird to human at this stage.

One of the co-authors of the research, Dr Chau Bui, told The New Daily that there were a variety of reasons more influenza strains were being uncovered.

“These new strains are mostly discovered in China because there we have better diagnostics compared to 50 years ago,” Dr Bui said.

“The other reasons relate to changes in poultry production practices.”

Dr Bui also said urbanisation and climate change was pushing bird life out of their natural environments into areas where humans lived, meaning more influenza was being transmitted from bird to human.

“Your standard flu shot is not related to these new strains however we urge people to definitely regularly get a flu shot,” she said.

Strong flu season in Australia

Federal health department figures from January 2017 to March 2017 showed there had been 1000 more cases of the flu in Australia compared to the same period in 2016.

Vaccinations expert from the Australian Sentinel Practices Research Network Monique Chilver told The New Daily her organisation, in consultation with the World Health Organisation (WHO), was “constantly” updating the flu vaccine based on new evidence.

flu vaccine

Our flu shots are constantly being updated. Photo: Shutterstock

“WHO constantly monitors the new strains that come into Australia so basically we submit samples from different patients and all of that data is analysed,” Ms Chilver said.

“It is also reviewed on a global level annually in Geneva and changes are made to the vaccine accordingly.”

More than 3000 Australians die from the flu each year with an estimated 18,000 hospitalised due to highly contagious symptoms.

In response, more than two million extra Australians will get a flu shot this year, a Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) survey found.

That’s because this year people can get flu shots at pharmacies, not just at the GP or via work or school schemes.The total figure expected to get flu shots is about six million, PGA estimated.

The survey found baby boomers were the least likely to have a flu shot, however less than half of adult Australians received a flu shot in 2016.

– with AAP

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