Forecasting the 2023 Flu Season: Lessons from Down Under
Did you know that the U.S. often looks to Australia's flu season to predict its own? It's true! With a record flu season sweeping across Australia this year, we're going to take a peek at what MAY be ahead for us as we approach fall and winter! (Remember, the southern hemisphere is experiencing WINTER while we're having fun in the SUMMER sun!)
Before we dive into the data from Australia, let's take a look at what influences the onset of “flu season”!
The Weather: Ever wonder why the flu tends to strike in winter? Cold, dry air allows the flu virus to survive longer and transmit more easily. Plus, low humidity can dry out our nasal passages, making us more susceptible to infection. It's not just the chill in the air that gets you; it's also the flu! (Source: Harvard University)
Changes in Social Behavior: When it's cold outside, we tend to huddle indoors, increasing our close contact with others. More people in less space means the virus can hop from person to person like a game of leapfrog! This is also usually why we see an uptick in illness as kids head back to school. (Source: CDC)
Immune System Fluctuations: Factors like vitamin D and melatonin levels can affect our immune system's ability to fight off infections. In winter, we get less sunlight (hello, shorter days!), which can lead to lower vitamin D levels. And guess what? That can make us more prone to catching the flu. (Source: NCBI)
Virus Mutation: Influenza viruses are notorious for their ability to change and adapt. These genetic changes can impact the virus's transmissibility and virulence, making some flu seasons worse than others. Talk about an unwelcome surprise! (Source: CDC)
Each of these factors plays a crucial role in shaping the flu season in the USA. We can't change the weather, but we can make small changes to our routines like using cool-mist humidifiers, drinking plenty of fluids, keeping our distance when we feel unwell and more.
Let's dive into the numbers of Australia. Back in 2017, Australia saw a whopping 251,147 flu cases (source: Doherty Institute). That same year, the U.S. braced for impact and, sure enough, experienced a severe flu season of its own. This pattern has held over the years, leading experts to closely monitor Australia's flu numbers as an early warning system.
So, what does Australia's flu season look like this year? The short answer: intense, but perhaps less severe than previous years.
One particular aspect of interest is that Australian health authorities have noted a high number of cases in children, more so than other age groups (source: CNN). This could be a crucial piece of information for the U.S. as we prepare for our own flu season. We can see a fluctuating trend in the number of Australians testing positive for flu each year. The image on the left represents influenza-like-illnesses (cough, fever) reported. The image on the right displays laboratory-confirmed influenza. Note: Australia is using Rate of influenza-like-illness per 1,000 consultations and the US uses % of visits for Influenza-Like-Illness symptoms.
The number of positive flu cases each year depends on various factors such as the virulence of the flu strains circulating that year, vaccination rates, and public health measures in place. For example, the significant drop in flu cases in 2020 (not displayed above) could be attributed to strict COVID-19-related public health measures implemented that year, which also helped reduce the spread of flu (source: The Economist).
For most people, the flu is an inconvenient illness. For a small percentage of the population (including children under 2 and adults over 65), the flu can lead to more serious complications.
Common flu symptoms include:
It is also worth noting that a high number of flu cases does not necessarily translate into a high number of deaths. CDC estimates that the US flu has resulted in 9 million – 41 million illnesses, 140,000 – 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 – 52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020.
We want you to be aware of what has happened in the most recent flu season so that you can be prepared! Here are some easy steps that you can take on your own to help lessen chances of the flu knocking you off of your feet:
Wash Your Hands Regularly : Sounds simple, right? But did you know that this easyhabit can be your strongest shield against the flu? Just 20 seconds under the tap with soap can send those germs packing!
Avoid Touching Your Face: We all do it. A little scratch here, a little rub there. But did you know every touch is an open invitation for germs to throw a party on your face? Yikes! So, let's make a pact right now: Hands off the face!
Boost Your Immune System: Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and manage stress. For an added boost, incorporate a daily dose of your favorite Seattle Elderberry product- loaded with antioxidants! Your health is worth it!
Maintain Cleanliness: Germs are like uninvited guests. They'll stick around as long as you let them. So, show them the door! Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly, especially those frequently touched objects.
Avoid Crowds: Avoiding large crowds reduces your chances of coming into contact with the flu virus.
Discuss with your trusted healthcare provider other measures such as Vitamin D supplementation, vaccination and other supplements that may help to keep you healthy!
Are you ready to face the flu season head-on? With insights from our Australian friends, we're one step ahead in our fight against the flu. Be sure you have your favorite Seattle Elderberry products on hand BEFORE flu season starts!
Want to know more about elderberries and how they have been shown to reduce severity and duration of flu symptoms in clinical trials? READ MORE HERE