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Can We Predict Flu Outbreaks?

microscopic close up of a virus

Flu viruses are constantly changing; this means if you’ve been vaccinated before, it may not be a strong and effective defense for next year.

This year, experts observed A(H1N1)pdm09, A(H3N2) and influenza B viruses co-circulating.

For more than five decades, the World Health Organization reviews the vaccine composition every year through the Global Influenza Program. They team up with scientists, health experts, and policymakers around the world to develop a cohesive approach to developing and distributing the vaccine that’s needed to fight the flu.

Through the program, they analyse which influenza viruses are causing illness, determine how wide these viruses are spreading, and, banking on data, assess if the previous season’s vaccines were effective.

Update on the Flu Vaccine Composition for 2019

To prepare for the flu season, experts in WHO made some recommendations for the 2019 vaccine composition. This is based on their year-round observations through Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.

For countries in the Southern Hemisphere, they recommend that the egg-based quadrivalent vaccines to be used in 2019 should contain the following:

  • A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • A/Switzerland/8060/2017 (H3N2)-like virus
  • B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus (B/Victoria/2/87 lineage)
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata/16/88 lineage)

The quadrivalent flu vaccine has the ability to protect against four different flu viruses: two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses.

How We Predict and Monitor Flu

A widespread outbreak of the influenza virus puts the health of thousands of people at risk. That’s why having a means for experts to predict and monitor the spread of flu is essential.

Being able to predict and track flu activity in a locality, health experts are able to give actionable information, which doctors, health professionals, and the community can use to prepare for the outbreak.

However, flu forecasting is relatively new and proves to be hard to measure. The different human behaviours and biases associated with flu all needed to be factored in.

Whilst we do have models that predict how bad the flu season is and when it will reach its peak on a national level, the predictions aren’t always accurate.

But experts do say that there will come a time where, just like we have weather maps to track rain and measure its probability in one region, flu forecasting will allow us to tell how likely one specific region could get hit by the flu widespread.

Dr Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University says that it will take some time to perfect the science of flu forecasting.

“Our observations are very primitive and we don’t yet have the equivalent of satellites that range over the open oceans and provide real time observations that allow us to build more sophisticated models and better forecasts about the weather,” he says in an interview with Financial Review.

Dr Shaman published a study that recommends a system that can precisely predict the geographic spread of seasonal flu. The system takes into account the data from local occurrences of illnesses that have the symptoms of flu. It then looks into laboratory-verified cases of flu, which it draws from the World Health Organization. It factors in data on commuting patterns, even for occasional travels like work trips and holiday trips.

How Your Business Can Prepare for the Flu Season

Whilst we can monitor the different strains of flu in other countries and the level outbreak, we can’t always be sure about these predictions. The number one factor influencing this is whether people are getting vaccinated and whether outbreaks are contained.

The workplace poses a high risk for spreading virus. When an infected person sneezes, coughs, or throws up, there’s no stopping the virus from spreading. We risk contaminating our shared equipment, and we risk affecting other people with the virus.

There are different opinions and unreliable news across the internet around this subject. This is why we created our flu program. Our purpose is to educate and inform employees and employers alike of the truth about influenza and vaccination.

Vaccination is one of the most essential ways to prevent the spread of the flu virus. For organisations who place a premium on its employees’ health and wellbeing, it’s never too early to think about the best way to encourage them to be in control of their health.

Our mix of digital booking platform, professional nurse care, and insight-based creative assets are proven to help boost your employee participation. Keen to find out more about our flu program? Contact us today.

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