Parts of Australia report early-season flu surge
Flu levels are up sharply in some Australian states, putting pressure on healthcare systems that are also coping with ongoing COVID-19 activity and prompting more efforts to get more people vaccinated against flu.
In New South Wales (NSW), hospital and lab surveillance shows sharp increases in flu activity earlier than seen in previous winter flu seasons, the state's health department said in its update for the week ending May 14. Influenza A is the dominant strain, with 2009 H1N1 more common in children and H3N2 affecting adults.
On Twitter, the NSW health department said emergency departments are under pressure due to COVID-19 and a rise in flu cases, and it urged people to consider other options for non-urgent medical care.
Meanwhile, Queensland state's health officials said yesterday that all residents will be offered free flu vaccination as the state faces a severe influenza A outbreak, with cases doubling every week. They said vaccine rates and immunity levels are low, and case numbers are climbing faster and earlier than expected. They said supply chain and health service disruptions from COVID-19 will be exacerbated by a simultaneous flu outbreak.
May 19 NSW COVID-19 and flu update
May 24 NSW health department tweet
May 23 Queensland government statement
In its latest global flu update, which roughly covers the last half of April, the World Health Organization (WHO) said flu activity decreased, with activity stabilizing or decreasing in temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere. In temperate parts of the Southern Hemisphere, activity rose in Argentina and Chile.
The WHO added that flu detections increased in Australia in the last half of April, but levels were still below the 5-year average.
Globally, of respiratory samples that tested positive for flu during the reporting period, 98% were influenza A, and, of the subtyped influenza A samples, 93.5% were H3N2 and 6.5% were 2009 H1N1.
May 16 WHO global flu update
Canada reports avian flu in skunks as virus strikes more US flocks
Following detections of avian flu in foxes in Canada and the United States, veterinary officials in Alberta have detected the virus in skunks found dead, according to CTV News. The detections in wild mammals are notable, raising concerns about the zoonotic potential of the circulating virus.
Margo Pybus, PhD, a wildlife specialist for Alberta Fish and Wildlife, told CTV that the skunks that tested positive were in east-central Alberta. She said tests are also pending for some young foxes.
May 20 CTV story
In US developments, two states reported more highly pathogenic avian flu outbreaks in poultry flocks, according to the latest update from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Pennsylvania reported an outbreak at a commercial duck breeding farm in Berks County that houses 4,700 birds, and Wisconsin reported the virus in backyard birds in Bayfield County, which is on the southern shore of Lake Superior.
So far, the tests have confirmed the virus in 349 flocks across 35 states. The outbreaks have led to the loss of 38.02 million birds.
Yesterday, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) urged farmers to boost their biosecurity practices against two big threats, avian flu and African swine fever. It said the avian flu activity since October 2021 is unprecedented, with 47 countries reporting nearly 3,000 outbreaks, resulting in the loss of 80 million domestic birds.
It also raised concerns about the impact of the virus on wild birds, which could affect biodiversity. For example, it said the virus has killed more than 8,000 cranes in Israel.
USDA APHIS poultry avian flu updates
May 23 OIE statement