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Experts warn the outbreak of Aussie flu is ‘unpredictable’

The dreaded ‘Aussie flu’ has bewildered experts who ‘don’t know’ how bad this year’s outbreak is going to become amid mounting pressure on the NHS.

Government figures 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.

Hospitals have been plunged into chaos because of the sharp rise in flu, and GPs have been forced to cancel holiday and work late into the night to cope.

Just two areas of the UK are believed to be free of the potentially fatal bug, which has placed left the NHS over-stretched ahead of a busy winter.

Health bosses made the unprecedented decision to cancel 55,000 operations to try and cope with the crisis last week as the health service started to buckle.

And now a scientist has warned the ‘unpredictable’ outbreak is likely to continue its spread across the UK – leaving the NHS under threat.

Government figures show cases of the contagious virus have soared by 70 per cent in a week – with 2,810 new people struck down

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’. 

PHE figures showed 2,810 have fallen victim to influenza in the week ending January 7. In contrast, 1,653 were struck down in the previous seven days.


UFC fighter Conor McGregor has been struck down by deadly 'Aussie flu'

UFC fighter Conor McGregor has been struck down by deadly ‘Aussie flu’

UFC fighter Conor McGregor has been struck down by deadly ‘Aussie flu’, which could be the worst bout Britain has seen in 50 years.

He shared a candid Instagram snap of him relaxing in bed with his baby boy Conor Jr, revealing he and ‘half his family’ had contracted the virus.

The 29-year-old millionaire sportsman wrote on the social media site: ‘Well that was a wild New Year’s Eve. 

‘Half the family hit with the Australian flu virus and some even left in hospital with it. I’ve never even been to Australia wtf.'[sic]’

The MMA fighter and boxer said that he had been left shaken by the illness, which has affected people across Ireland over the festive period.

He said: ‘Big New Year’s Eve party cancelled at the last minute and I am left shaking in bed the past two days.

‘I’ll leave that with the rest of the bad behind me in 2017 and take with me the many great experiences I’ve had this year!

‘None greater than the birth of my son Conor Jr and the continued support of my family, my friends and my dedicated staff through thick and thin.’

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. 

Only the City of London and Ilford have reported zero cases so far this winter, according to the website – which tracks outbreaks of flu.

The ‘sign of peace’ handshake has even been banned across churches in Northern Ireland due to the risk of infection.

GP surgeries have been overwhelmed with the influx of patients amid the winter flu epidemic, made worse by the aggressive flu strain that rocked Australia. 

The soaring number of flu cases has been put down to a surge in two aggressive subtypes attacking the population simultaneously.


Statistics from Public Health England reveal how many people were infected during week 1 of the previous four winters.


Influenza A

Influenza B




Influenza A

Influenza B




Influenza A

Influenza B




Influenza A

Influenza B



One includes the so-called ‘Aussie flu’, a strain of influenza A which wreaked havoc on hospitals in Australia during the country’s winter.

The H3N2 subtype triggered two and a half times the normal number of cases in Australia. Britain’s flu season tends to mirror what has happened there.

Experts fear the virulent flu strain, which has now reached the UK, could prove as deadly to humanity as the Hong Kong flu in 1968, which killed one million people. 

Usually, just one subtype, either influenza A or B, is responsible for the majority of  cases. It spreads much easier in the cold weather.

Last week, 1,139 people were confirmed to have influenza A, 1,613 were shown to have influenza B and a further 58 were unclassified. 

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.

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.

The elderly with their compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible, and a spike in cases among young children has also been shown.


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 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.

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.


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.  

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. 


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.