The dreaded ‘Aussie flu’ is more severe than the Swine flu pandemic of 2009 which killed nearly 300,000 people across the world, an expert has warned.
Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at Oxford University, believes this winter ‘may well be worse than others’.
His fears come amid the emergence of H3N2, an aggressive strain of influenza A that rocked Australia during its winter and triggered triple the usual number of cases.
Some scientists fear H3N2, which has also struck France, could also prove as deadly to humanity as the Hong Kong flu in 1968 when one million people died.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Professor Horby said: ‘Generally H3N2 tends to be a bit more severe than the H1N1 in 2009.’
However, Britain is being attacked by several strains simultaneously. Usually, just one subtype, either influenza A or B, is responsible for the majority of cases.
This map, based on figures from Public Health England, represents how often flu-like symptoms are being reported to GPs. Orange represents the areas that have a very high amount of flu-like symptoms compared to dark blue areas which have low numbers
GRANDMOTHER, 47, HAS BEEN LEFT HALLUCINATING, UNABLE TO WALK AND SUICIDAL FROM FLU
Wendy Waite, 47, from Devizes, Wiltshire, caught the bug in the run-up to Christmas
A grandmother struck down with Aussie flu has revealed the killer virus circulating the UK has left her on the brink of suicide.
Wendy Waite, 47, from Devizes, Wiltshire, caught the bug in the run-up to Christmas – but is still suffering from its brutal side effects.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, the shop worker, who has nine grandchildren, described it as the ‘worst illness I have ever had’.
Mrs Waite claims her three-week battle with Aussie flu has left her with hallucinations and migraines so painful that she feels like ‘screaming’.
The pain also left her unable to walk up her own stairs – forcing her to crawl, and she became reliant on her husband lifting her in and out of the bath.
She said: ‘I did say to my hubby one night if there was an injection to end me off right now think I would do it.
‘But I have four children and nine grandchildren and a smashing hubby so it was just a spur of the moment madness.
‘Bu that’s how much pain you are in to even say such a stupid thing.’
Mrs Waite added: ‘You would not understand how hard it really is to get over and how evil and painful it really is.’
Tests have yet to confirm if Mrs Waite has been infected with the H3N2 strain of flu, which is more commonly referred to as influenza A.
The rapid spread of a strain of influenza B which is not covered in a vaccine given to the elderly, known as B/Yamagata, has raised concerns.
But Professor Horby added: ‘The current B virus that’s dominant is not included in the standard vaccine this year – the one given to children.
‘The one that’s circulating currently is not in the trivalent vaccine but influenza A is in the vaccine, that’s why people at higher risk should get some protection.’
When asked how bad this year’s outbreak is likely to be, he said: ‘It’s difficult to say [this year] because it’s a mixed bag of viruses, we’ve got H3N2 and B both circulating and causing quite a number of cases each.’
His comments come as a leading virologist predicted another cold snap will fuel the spread of H3N2 and ‘kick cases into another orbit’.
Professor John Oxford, of Queen Mary University in London, exclusively warned that the killer virus spreads much easier when temperatures plummet.
Forecasters believe the weather will continue as it is currently for the next few days – forcing adults to flock indoors and be surrounded by others.
This leaves them susceptible to catching H3N2 or another type of the deadly virus that is currently active.
Professor Oxford also revealed he is keeping his ‘fingers crossed’ as he fears the current epidemic in France could replicate itself in Britain.
The European country has been rocked by an ‘exceptional’ outbreak, with nearly 12,000 people having been left hospitalised and more than 30 dead.
Figures show the UK is heading the same way, with scientists concerned the flu causing havoc on the over-stretched NHS is ‘unpredictable’.
The Ministry of Health in France issued an alert about flu earlier this week, warning that the outbreak has still yet to reach its peak.
It read: ‘The influenza epidemic is of an exceptional magnitude, by the number of cases, which risks exceeding those of the last two years.’
REVEALED: THE 2009 SWINE FLU TIMELINE IN THE UK
APRIL 24 2009: The Health Protection Agency says it is monitoring a deadly swine flu outbreak in Mexico and the United States after more than 60 people worldwide die after contracting the virus.
APRIL 26: Iain and Dawn Askham, of Polmont, near Falkirk, confirmed as the first UK cases of swine flu after returning from their honeymoon in Mexico.
JUNE 11: The World Health Organisation announces the swine flu outbreak is now a pandemic.
JUNE 14: Jacqui Fleming, 38, of Glasgow, becomes the first person in the UK to die after contracting the virus. Mrs Fleming died two weeks after her son, Jack, was born 11 weeks prematurely. He died on June 15 – but not from swine flu.
JULY 2: The UK moves past the stage of containing the swine flu outbreak and into the ‘treatment phase’, with hundreds of cases recorded every day.
JULY 9: The Government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, confirms 14 people in the UK have now died after contracting swine flu.
JULY 10: A hospital patient from Essex becomes the first person without underlying health problems to die after contracting swine flu.
JULY 23: New swine flu website receives 2,600 hits per second and crashes within minutes of launching.
SEPTEMBER 3: Government scientists revise estimate of the number of people in the UK who could die to a ‘worst case scenario’ of 19,000, down from the estimate of 65,000 two months earlier.
OCTOBER 21: Mass swine flu immunisation programme gets under way.
OCTOBER 25: A hard-hitting Government advertising campaign about how easily swine flu can spread, using the slogan Catch It, Kill It, Bin It, is announced.
NOVEMBER 19: Plans to vaccinate more than three million healthy under-fives are revealed
DECEMBER 10: Sir Liam Donaldson says the pandemic is ‘considerably less lethal; than feared, with 26 deaths for every 100,000 cases in England.
JANUARY 8 2010: The number of new cases in the UK falls significantly, to fewer than 5,000 new cases in a week, but the death toll rises to 360.
MARCH 18: New figures reveal there have been 457 deaths in the UK since the pandemic began.
MARCH 25: An independent review of the UK response to swine flu is announced, headed by former Welsh Chief Medical Officer Dame Deirdre Hine, which will make recommendations about what should be done in the event of future flu pandemics.
The European country has been rocked by an ‘exceptional’ outbreak, with nearly 12,000 people having been left hospitalised (the graphic shows how many people per 100,000 have been infected for each region – any more than 400 is considered an epidemic)
Government figures show cases of the contagious virus have soared by 70 per cent in a week – with 2,810 new people struck down
The rocketing cases prompted Marisol Touraine, the country’s health minister, to delay non-urgent operations to free up hospital beds.
CASES OF INFLUENZA
Statistics from Public Health England reveal how many people were infected during week 1 of the previous four winters.
This controversial move was mirrored by Jeremy Hunt last week, with the NHS having being plunged into chaos amid a spike in flu cases.
Mr Hunt, made Health and Social Secretary in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle yesterday, made the unprecedented decision to cancel 55,000 operations.
Experts have already warned of a ‘double-whammy’ of new cases, as kids head back to school and swarms of travellers return from flu-hit France.
No areas of the UK are believed to be free of the potentially fatal bug, which has forced GPs to cancel holidays and work late into the night.
Figures released yesterday show cases of the contagious virus have soared by 70 per cent in a week – with 2,810 new people struck down in the last seven days.
This winter’s outbreak appears to be nine times more severe than that of 2015/16 – when just 296 cases of flu had been recorded at the same point.
During that winter, Government figures suggested the winter flu played a role in more than 16,000 deaths. Only 577 were recorded in the previous winter.
However, this winter’s outbreak shows no signs of slowing down, as flu cases are expected to rocket even further in the coming weeks.
Nearly 50 people have already been killed by the bug this year and at least 1,078 people have been hospitalised – 252 of which were caused by the ‘Aussie flu’ strain.
Some 137 were caused by H1N1, which triggered the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed 50 million. A further 291 strains of influenza A were unidentified.
SURGE IN SALES OF FLU JAB AMID FEARS OF AUSSIE FLU
Fears of Aussie flu have prompted a surge in sales of the flu vaccination this year – despite concerns they are ineffective, figures show.
Data from a leading high street retailer show a staggering 166 per cent increase in sales of the jab for the first week of 2018 compared to last year.
Superdrug has claimed ‘Aussie flu’ is likely to blame, amid fears the killer virus will prove as deadly to humanity as the Hong Kong flu in 1968 when one million people died.
The figures, seen by MailOnline, come as health officials admitted the trivalent jab that has already been dished out to thousands may be targeting the wrong strain.
Public Health England announced the cheaper vaccine is not effective against a common type of influenza B which is currently circulating.
An analysis of 25 cases of influenza B revealed 21 have been caused by the B/Yamagata type – which isn’t covered by the cheaper jab.
The strain has been responsible for a surge in cases of flu, including the dreaded ‘Aussie flu’ across England and Wales this winter – putting extra pressure on the NHS.
Professor Andrew Easton, a leading virologist at Warwick University, told MailOnline that there is nothing unusual about this year’s outbreak so far.
However, on the back of Public Health England figures released today, he warned that ‘you really can’t predict how it’s going to go’.
Speaking exclusively, he said: ‘Every year there are problems because of outbreaks, and while predictable, they do cause difficulties.
‘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.
‘But 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 is also ‘actively circulating’ in Ireland, with less than ten people having lost their lives to the killer virus so far in this winter’s outbreak.
And in the US, the flu is already gripping 36 states and has killed at least 70 people in the US, according to data released by the CDC on Friday.
Australia – whose winter occurs during the British summer – had one of its worst outbreaks on record, with two and a half times the normal number of cases.
Some of the country’s A&E units had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain.
Public Health England data also shows the killer virus has left 1,078 in hospital – a quarter of which because of so-called ‘Aussie flu’
NHS PREPARES FOR THE WORST FLU OUTBREAK IN 50 YEARS
The dreaded Aussie flu outbreak that the NHS is preparing for will be the worst in 50 years, experts warned in September.
Some A&E units in Australia had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a public health expert at Nottingham Trent University, said it is ‘inevitable’ it will reach Britain.
He said it could claim as many lives as the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1968, which killed at least one million people.
Professor Dingwall told The Daily Express in September: ‘Based on the Australian experience public health officials need to meet and urgently review emergency planning procedures.
‘Public Health England should be working with local authorities and local health services to ensure more hospital beds are freed up. We need to be prepared, alert and flexible.
‘There is no point in trying to close the borders. It’s almost inevitable this will come to us. This is potentially the worst winter since the Hong Kong flu outbreak of 1968.
‘Lots of people have been very badly affected in Australia and whilst their mortality rates are not out yet we suspect this is a more severe strain than most other years.’
The elderly with their compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible, and a spike in cases among young children has also been shown.
The flu season in the UK and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere tends to mirror what has happened in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.
The same strains of the virus will circulate north in time for the British flu season, which typically begins in November and lasts until March.
Flu viruses are constantly changing proteins on their surface to avoid detection by the body’s immune system – making it more deadly.
THE FLU JAB DOESN’T WORK!
Health officials have admitted a flu jab that has already been dished out to thousands may be targeting the wrong strain of the virus.
Public Health England has announced the trivalent vaccine is not effective against a common type of influenza B which is currently circulating.
An analysis revealed 21 cases of influenza B have been caused by the B/Yamagata type – which isn’t covered by the cheaper jab.
The strain has been responsible for a surge in cases of flu, including the dreaded ‘Aussie flu’ across England and Wales this winter – putting extra pressure on the NHS.
In a letter to GPs, PHE suggested only adults given the quadrivalent vaccine would face protection from the emerging B strain.
GPs in the south west were told: ‘It is possible that flu will be seen among individuals, both staff and patients, who have accepted this vaccination.’
The trivalent vaccines, which protect against one strain of B and two of A, are most commonly used in NHS surgeries because they are cheaper, The Times reports.
This transformation is called an ‘antigenic shift’ if it’s large enough, and can lead to a pandemic. This was responsible for the swine flu outbreak in 2009.
The Aussie flu is transforming quickly, but not fast enough for experts to describe it as a shift. However, it is slowly building up immunity.
The new PHE figures follow concerns by researchers that the jab may only be 20 per cent effective this winter – just like last year.
Studies have suggested the H3N2 strain, used in the jab created by World Health Organization scientists, has mutated to evade detection.
Some experts in Australia blamed this as a reason why they suffered such a severe flu outbreak. The vaccine used in the UK will be very similar.
The WHO creates the vaccines in March, based on which flu strains they expected to be in circulation. They are then doled out in September.
And health officials admitted last week that a flu jab that has already been dished out to thousands may be targeting the wrong strain of the virus.
PHE announced the trivalent vaccine, often used by GPs because it is cheaper, is not effective against a common type of influenza B which is currently circulating.
An analysis of 25 cases of influenza B revealed 21 of them have been caused by the B/Yamagata type – which isn’t covered by the cheaper jab.
The admittance that the trivalent jab is ineffective follows the announcement of NHS bosses who stated the vaccine doesn’t work for the over-75s.
NHS England penned a letter to all GPs earlier in the week warning the vaccine has ‘showed no significant effectiveness in this group over recent seasons’.
Figures show 11 million people deemed at risk, including pregnant women, the over-65s and children under the age of two, received the flu jab in 2016.
WHERE CAN YOU GET THE FLU JAB?
Flu can be a serious illness. If you become very ill with it, it can cause complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle, and kidney failure.
People at most risk of serious illness or death if they get flu are offered the vaccine on the NHS. Ideally you should have this before the end of December, when flu peaks (it takes about two weeks after the jab for antibodies to develop completely).
At-risk groups include anyone aged 65 and over; people living in long-stay residential care homes; carers and pregnant women.
The vaccine is also offered to anyone aged six months to 65 years with certain conditions, such as diabetes.
It is available via your GP’s surgery.
All children aged two to eleven (on August 31, 2017) are also offered the vaccine as a nasal spray. The UK introduced the child vaccination programme in 2013 — last year, the vaccine had 66 per cent effectiveness. Australia does not have a similar programme.
If you don’t qualify to have the jab on the NHS, you can pay to get it at a pharmacy.
Well Pharmacy charges £9 to £14 (depending on the number of strains in the vaccine), Superdrug from £9.99, Lloyds Pharmacy £10, Boots £12.99, and Tesco £9.
Older children who fall outside the NHS scheme can get the nasal spray vaccine from some pharmacies such as Well (£23 for those aged between two and 18; this may involve a second dose at least four weeks later for another £23) and the injection for those 12 and over for £9.
Boots offers the jab to those aged 16 and over at £12.99. Tesco offers it to those 12 and over at £9.