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Early surge of flu activity in Australia has doctors on alert for what may happen in US this fall and winter

Epidemiologists this summer are closely watching the sharp rise in flu activity in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is currently winter, to see if it’s a sign of what’s to come in the U.S.

The Australian Department of Health and Aged Care reported an increase in influenza-like illness activity in almost all jurisdictions in the final two weeks of May.

The illness activity was highest in young children ages 5 to 9, followed by children 4 years and younger, and then those ages 10 to 14. 

“There are several countries experiencing higher or earlier activity compared with years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are experiencing typical activity for this time of year or activity that is lower than historical trends,” Dr. Carrie Reed, chief of CDC’s Influenza Division Epidemiology and Prevention branch, told Fox News Digital.

Woman with flu

Many people recover from the flu without seeking care, while some may seek care later in their illness when the flu can no longer be detected on a respiratory sample. (iStock)

The flu season in the Southern Hemisphere usually occurs between April and September — while the flu season occurs between October through May in the Northern Hemisphere, Reed said.

“What goes on in the Southern Hemisphere is frequently an important predictor of things to come regarding the flu season,” Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Long Island, New York, told Fox News Digital.

The activity in the Southern Hemisphere often portends what will happen in the United States in the following winter. 

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He added, “We just have to wait and see whether it is accurate or not every year.”

Reed also emphasized that Southern Hemisphere flu activity does not necessarily predict what will happen in the U.S.

mom monitoring sick child

Experts point to predictable human activities that spread flu every year — including children going back to school and people traveling to see loved ones over the holidays. (iStock)

Many people recover from the flu without seeking care, while some may seek care later in their illness when the flu can no longer be detected on a respiratory sample.

“Sensitive flu tests are only likely to detect flu if performed within a week after onset of illness,” the agency noted on its website.

“In addition, some commonly used tests to diagnose flu in clinical settings are not highly sensitive and can provide false negative results (i.e. they miss true flu infections).”

Why is it hard to forecast the flu?

Generally, people start getting sick from the flu around October, with clinics starting to get busy between December and February, according to recent report.

Unknown variables, such as the weather and how many people in the population will be immune to the flu during the winter, make it difficult to predict the upcoming flu season. 

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Human behavior and social interactions also play a role, so masking by a large number people could help make a difference in blunting the spread of flu.

Older lady vaccine

People accustomed to normally getting their annual flu vaccine will have the option to also get vaccinated for an updated COVID-19 vaccine as well as potentially the new respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine.  (iStock)

“There is no way to know what flu activity in the United States will look like this season,” Reed said.

People accustomed to normally getting their annual flu vaccine will have the option to also get vaccinated for an updated COVID-19 vaccine as well as potentially the new respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, two of which are now FDA-approved for adults over the age of 60, according to recent reports.

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The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet on June 21-23 to provide recommendations for specific patient populations to get vaccinated for RSV. 

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