Science » Planet Earth
Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Monster flu outbreak on the way?

The Influenza virus traditionally travels from East to West so what happens in the East is likely to find its way westwards. Judging from the negative experiences of Australia and New Zealand this (European) Summer - their Winter - healthcare authorities are bracing for the worst outbreak in a long time.

What we are about to face, we already know because the World Health Organization stated back in March that the composition of flu vaccines for this year (2017-2018) in the northern hemisphere influenza season should contain the following:

 

  • an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus; and
  • a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.

 Furthermore, "It is recommended that quadrivalent vaccines containing two influenza B viruses contain the above three viruses and a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus".

Now let us see what the WHO recommended for the 2017 Southern hemisphere influenza season. Answer: Vaccines containing exactly the same elements.

Seen this before

Influenza A (H1N1) has shown its face before, namely in the 2009/10 Swine Flu outbreak which manifested itself as deadly but only in the high ratio of normal flu cases. (The H glycoprotein is Hemagglutinin, which is spike-shaped, poking out from the surface of the virus and the N enzyme is Neuraminidase, allowing the glycoproteins to exit the host cell and spread). A H1N1 can present some very serious complications in some people, including bacterial pneumonia.

Those watching Flu virus outbreaks will also be familiar with Hong Kong Flu. Influenza A H3N2 caused a worrying degree of morbidity and mortality among humans in 2003-04. This strain of flu first appeared in Hong Kong in 1968.

The seasonal Influenza virus is usually caused by Influenza types A or B; the symptoms of type C are far less virulent. A can be caught or carried by animals or humans, B is restricted to humans only and in general terms is less virulent, although not always.

This cocktail which we face this year has produced the worst flu seasons in Australia and New Zealand for some time, in fact nearly the double of reported cases compared with the last few years. The symptoms have not been especially serious, except in people with underlying health concerns, such as respiratory problems but the sheer number of cases is expected to pose serious problems for healthcare facilities this Winter.

Prevention

Those with underlying health conditions and especially the elderly, should be aware that flu is caught by droplets containing the virus entering the nose, mouth or eyes and usually these droplets are introduced into the body through the hands touching the face. The hands in turn will have come into contact with a surface on which someone already suffering from flu has coughed or sneezed, such as a table top, door handle or buttons in an elevator.

Frequent use of an alcohol-based gel or spray to clean the hands, avoiding to touch the surfaces where the virus may be lying, disinfection of door handles and keys in the home on arrival and of the taps before and after washing the hands are useful tips for creating habits which create conditions hindering the transmission of the virus.

Timofei Belov

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