What’s new Influ2day…?

Annoying things I read in the Australian online news media today…

  • Not too late to get the flu shot.
    No. It sure isn’t. I was…surprised to read this since the flu season – in terms of case numbers rising week-on-week – has not begun.In fact, background levels have been slowing for weeks. By all mean possible you southern hemispherians, do get your vaccination ASAP. Immunization is the only protection we have against acquiring influenza.

    We’re just a ways off it being “last minute” yet. Yes, I’m being a bit of a pedant. 

  • Queensland’s flu season is starting with hundreds of more cases than at the same time last year.
    This is technically true. In terms of TOTAL numbers, we saw more flu infections identified nationwide, in January, February and March 2018 than in any other previous year.

    Influenza Surveillance Report. Published by the State of Queensland (Queensland Health), May 2018 CC-BY 3.0.

    But since April – ya know, weeks ago – that trend has reversed in Queensland. In fact, case numbers have been in decline each week. We’re actually at a point close to the lowest weekly flu numbers as at the same time in any of the past 5 years. So don’t panic. But do organise to get that vaccine anyway.

  • Flu season panic because of vaccine shortages.
    There are vaccine shortages. This is true. There were reports of shortages last year and in other years as well.This is unfortunate but also good because it means Aussies are getting vaccinated.

    However, use of the word “panic” is just not needed. It’s more likely to introduce fear into one of those groups most at risk from the worst impacts of influenza infection; the elderly.

    There also seems to be an aspect of blaming the elderly for the shortage because of vaccination “double-up”.

    I have no idea how much of this is really happening, but outlets would have us believe GPs are providing 2 standard dose quadrivalent flu vaccinations to worried seniors, instead of the single, distinct high dose trivalent vaccine specifically tailored to those aged over 65 years. This is the ‘super-vaccine available in Australia for the first time in 2018.

    The reason for wanting a double dose of normal vaccine? Apparently because of fears about a vaccine that is including 3 not 4 viruses; trivalent high dose versus quadrivalent standard dose vaccine. Making this even worse, the “Brisbane Flu virus” (B/Brisbane/60/2008; Victoria lineage) is the missing virus in the super-vaccine. This virus was set up earlier in the year as being one of the most dangerous Flu viruses in the world. Where that came from, I do not know, but seem to be outlet-driven. I debunked this with help from The University of Queensland a month ago.

    It is hard to know what lineages are currently circulating as there is little typing information to be seen. More than half of Flu viruses that have been laboratory-confirmed and typed so far in 2018 are type A Flu viruses though, not type B.

Media outlets carry much sway and the fallout from some of these stories is now being seen in real terms. It’s great to sit back and say “don’t give oxygen to bad ideas”, but more importantly, don’t ignore the very real need to stand up and correct content that misleads the public or perhaps even endangers lives. 

For those aged over 65 years of age, the high-dose (4x more of the important bits of the virus) trivalent vaccine has been shown to better prevent serious flu-related outcomes among the elderly than the standard dose quadrivalent version.

The high-dose “super vaccine” is tailored to include the Flu viruses that are most dangerous to the elderly as well. These include the A/H3N2 viruses. GPs should all be well aware of this.  

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