The dreaded Aussie flu outbreak that the NHS is preparing for will be the worst in 50 years, experts have warned.
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.
Some A&E units in Australia had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain
Professor Dingwall told The Daily Express: ‘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.’
More pressure on hospitals
Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, warned that the virus could cause ‘much more pressure’ for hospitals and GP surgeries two weeks ago.
Australia – whose winter occurs during our summer – had one of its worst outbreaks on record, with two and a half times the normal number of cases.
THE HONG KONG FLU OUTBREAK IN 1968
Between one and four million people were killed during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1968.
The H3N2 strain was responsible. This is the same strain that caused havoc in Australia during their winter.
The virus was noted for being highly contagious, with it infecting 500,000 people within two weeks of the first case.
Over the course of a year, it spread to Vietnam, Singapore, India, Australia, Europe, the US, Japan, Africa and South America.
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.
But there are concerns the vaccine, made by World Health Organisation scientists, will prove to be ineffective as it will not match the H3N2 strain.
Scientists create the vaccines in March, based on which flu strains they expect to be in circulation. They are then given out in September.
Some health experts in Australia have blamed the severe outbreak on the vaccine not matching. The vaccine used in the UK will be very similar.
Ineffective flu jabs
In 2015 health officials admitted that the flu vaccine given to millions of patients the previous winter had been ineffective.
Initial analysis by Public Health England showed it worked in just 3 per cent of cases, this was later revised up to 30 per cent of cases.
Normally flu vaccines are effective against two thirds of cases so this was still substantially below average.