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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Deadly Australian flu spreads across the world

The strain has claimed a number of lives and seen thousands seek medical help in Australia, with the young, elderly and those with pre-existing health condition suffering from being worst affected.

The Australian flu can be avoided if a flu shot is given. Eric Gaillard / Reuters
The Australian flu can be avoided if a flu shot is given. Eric Gaillard / Reuters

Australia’s worst flu outbreak in nearly a decade has spread as far as America.

Fears over the impact of the flu are high in the US, which has been struck by an unusually cold winter. Many health officials warn that the already serious flu season in the US could become more severe as this strain spreads.

The strain has claimed a number of lives and seen thousands seek medical help in Australia, with the young, elderly and those with pre-existing health condition suffering from being worst affected.

In the UK, fears over the flu strain have been growing since October with a new wave of concern growing over the last few weeks thanks to a cold snap sparking a sharp rise of hospital admissions. However, the figures of those seeking medical help are still far below those seen in 2008-9 when the swine flu pandemic struck Britain.

Experts in the USA have suggested that the number of travellers visiting friends and family across the Christmas and New Year week may have fuelled the spread of flu across the country. Around 80 per cent of flu cases in the US are of the potentialy deadly H3N2 strain, nicknamed the Australian flu.

The flu has struck areas including Africa, South America and Europe. In France, the Ministry of Health issued an alert, warning "the influenza epidemic is of an exceptional magnitude, by the number of cases, which risks exceeding those of the last two years".

The extent of the number of Australians who succumbed to the illness could remain higher than in other countries due to the low numbers of people who recieve flu shots. In Australia, vaccinations are only recommended for health care workers and people at high risk — those who are pregnant, orhave medical conditions.

In the US it is advised that everyone older than six months is given the jab, while the UK offers a free flu vaccine to those who are over 65, pregnant, have medical conditions or live in a a care facility. It is also free for young children.

Read more: Highly contagious virus prompts UAE to ban chicken eggs and meat from Russia

There are concerns over how effective the flu jab is against this strain of the illness, with the H3N2 component of Australia’s flu shot - the same as the North American jabs - reportedly only 10 percent effective at preventing infection.

A small number of patients brought down with the flu have died in Ireland, with UFC fighter Conor McGregor reportedly having to cancel his New Year’s Eve party after he was struck down by "Australian flu". In a now deleted Instagram post, the Irish sports star said he was "left shaking in bed" and that some of his family members had been admitted to hospital because of the virus.

Some establishments in Ireland and the UK have banned handshaking in a bid to stop contagion, while a number of hospitals have placed restrictions on visitors as they struggle to cope with demand and attempt to curb infection.

Figures for England and Wales showed the number of recorded flu cases more than doubled in the week before Christmas, with 1,111 cases were reported in the week up to 24 December 2017, compared with 434 cases in the seven days before that.

Just two areas of the UK are believed to be free of the potentially fatal illness.

Professor Andrew Easton, a leading virologist at Warwick University, told MailOnline that although there is nothing unusual about this year's outbreak so far, the flu is unpredictable and will continue to spread over the next few weeks.

He warned that “you really can't predict how it's going to go”, adding, “if numbers do continue to rise then those problems will continue and won't go away and they will put much more pressure on the system.”.

He said: “we're going to have to wait and see, you just don't know. We would expect the increases to continue for a few weeks before it reaches its normal peak”.

Flu remains a major killer. Last month, health agencies in 47 countries, including the C.D.C., published a study in medical journal the Lancet with new, higher mortality estimates.

Even in the absence of a pandemic, a severe flu year kills nearly 650,000 people worldwide, while a mild one kills just under 300,000, the study concluded.