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Australia’s Severe Flu Season: What We Can Learn

3 min read

Flu season is ramping up. And while the virus is always changing, we're not completely in the dark when it comes to flu prevention and management. 

One way we can prepare for the season ahead is by looking at flu severity and spread in other countries. Scientists especially like to look at countries like Australia, which have their winter – and their flu season – during our summer.1

So what was the flu like in Australia this year? The country's flu season started early and progressed quickly.1 By June 2023, it was already on track to compete with 2019, which had Australia's largest number of flu cases on record.2 Children were particularly at risk, and accounted for almost 80% of the country's flu hospitalizations at this early stage.2

Of course, this doesn't mean the same thing will happen in the United States. Flu activity is heavily influenced by outside factors, including human behavior, vaccination rates and weather conditions.3 But Australia's flu season does offer some insight that can inform our own best practices.

Here are three key takeaways from Australia's flu season that can help us in the months to come.

1. Flu management starts with the vaccine

Australia's high rate of flu hospitalizations among children coincided with steep declines in country-wide childhood vaccination rates.4

In June 2023, 20% of Australian children aged six months to five years were vaccinated against the flu, compared to 40% in 2020.2 For children aged five to 15, just 12% were vaccinated compared to 25% in 2020.2

Flu vaccination rates have also dropped for children (and adults) in the U.S., though not nearly as starkly.5 To prevent flu spread and hospitalizations, providers offer widespread access to flu vaccines and products for all demographics. This helps ensure that everyone who wants a flu vaccine can get one, in turn reducing the risk of severe illness for all populations, including those who are most vulnerable.

2. Practice on-site flu prevention practices to minimize spread

In addition to arriving early in Australia, the flu also spread rapidly.1 Knowing what we do about how respiratory viruses spread from person to person, it makes sense to be extra vigilant about practicing good prevention and control practices in healthcare settings.

During flu season, patient-facing health systems should follow strict protocols for dealing with both healthy patients and those presenting with signs of viral illness: 

  • Patients who are suspected of having the flu should be provided with a mask and a private room.6 
  • Other standard flu management precautions should be followed as well, including hand hygiene, environmental infection control measures and appropriate monitoring of all healthcare personnel.6

3. Be ready to adapt

Australia's flu season started out severely, but it didn't necessarily stay that way. Cases eventually declined, though more slowly than in previous years.7 And in September, the total number of fatalities was similar to 2022 levels.7

For U.S. healthcare providers, this serves as a reminder that the flu season evolves, just like the virus itself. Pay attention to data on local and regional flu transmissions and modify your approach as needed.

This may mean targeting vaccine awareness in the early months and then turning your focus to internal flu prevention strategies as the season progresses. It may also impact how you stock flu management products.

Ultimately, it's always challenging to predict what a flu season will bring. Do look to Australia's 2023 flu season for the possibilities it presents, but don't treat it like a blueprint. If you follow evidence-based practices for flu management and prevention, you'll already be a step ahead where it really matters.