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Will this year’s flu be one of the deadliest yet?

4 minute read
young bearded male with the winter flu blowing his nose

Last year’s flu was named as one of the worst on record, with more than 160,000 Aussies contracting it and thousands dead, including an eight-year old Melbourne girl. With forecasters predicting that 2018 will be chillier than average, it got us thinking: could this year’s flu be even more fatal than last year’s?

What causes the flu?

Firstly, let’s explain some of the basics; the seasonal flu is a viral infection that affects the respiratory tract. It’s highly contagious and its severity depends on the health and immune system of the person affected, the strain of virus and any other infections that may also hit. Some of the symptoms of the flu are:

  • High temperature (more than 38°)
  • Aches
  • Dry cough
  • Weakness and aching
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Lack of appetite

The flu virus is the most diabolical viral killer known to humankind - Dr Jonathan Quick

Why does the flu hit during winter?

There’s still no solid understanding as to why the flu is so prevalent during the winter months, but researchers have suggested that it could be because during the colder season, people tend to crowd together more – meaning the viral particles are more easily spread from host to host.

Will the 2018 strain be just as deadly?

Chair of the Global Health Council, Dr Jonathan Quick recently wrote an article on his fears that a global viral pandemic could hit, killing 300 million people across the globe in just two years. Dr Quick spoke to The Mirror,

“The most likely culprit will be a new and unprecedentedly deadly mutation of the influenza virus. The conditions are right, it could happen tomorrow."

“(The flu virus is) the most diabolical, hardest-to-control, and fastest-spreading potential viral killer known to humankind."

We spoke with Hamish Black, Medical Director at World Nomads Group who explained that the NSW rates of influenza were higher than usual for January, a trend which generally indicates that the winter strain will be worse and more prevalent than normal.

After last year’s deadly flu season, the Federal Government invested into developing a new enhanced vaccine that is specifically targeted at the strains and mutations that we saw in 2017.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy told the ABC,"We are pretty confident this will be better protection.”

“No flu vaccine is complete protection, the standard vaccine seems to protect well in younger people, but we are confident this will give better protection for the elderly."

young women getting her flu shot in advance of the 2018 flu season

How can I prevent the flu?

Prevention is key when it comes to reducing the impacts of the flu. A team from the University of Melbourne and the Defence Science Technology Group has created a flu outbreak forecaster called EpiFX that could accurately predict outbreaks up to five weeks in advance. James McCaw, Professor in Mathematical Biology at the University of Melbourne explains how the EpiFX works,

“The forecasting tool provides the crucial link between scenario planning, which has been conducted in preparation for future events, and real-time data analysis. That kicks in when people affected by the virus start to arrive at emergency departments, or when in a particular environment, such as a barracks, soldiers start displaying symptoms. Analysis of that data shows us how quickly a virus is spreading, and initiates an appropriate and proportionate response.”

The EpiFX could be a game-changer when it comes to flu season, giving people extra time to prepare and take preventative action with vaccinations if a particularly bad strain is predicted.

Currently, the most effective way to minimise your chance of contracting the flu is with an annual flu shot or immunisation. Many Aussies who are classified as ‘at risk’, including people over 65, pregnant women and those aged five or over with certain medical conditions, are eligible for a free vaccination. For the full list of eligibility, visit the NSW Government’s dedicated webpage.

It’s also important to take extra care to look after yourself in the lead-up to cold and flu season. For some tips on maximising your immune system, check out our article: 7 health habits to embrace before winter.

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