How can we prepare better for influenza epidemics?BMJ 2017; 359 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5007 (Published 02 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5007
- Chris Del Mar, professor of public health, Bond University1,
- Peter Collignon, infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist, Canberra Hospital, and executive director, ACT Pathology2
- 1Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
- 2Canberra, Australia
Public health physicians and clinicians keep a wary eye out for influenza epidemics, bearing in mind the greatest pandemic at the end of the first world war, when tens of millions died.1 The epidemics come every year, but their severity varies. Normally influenza is simply one of many clinically indistinguishable influenza-like illnesses (ILIs) from which people recover uneventfully. Australia’s latest season was worse than most, with a record number of laboratory confirmed cases (170 000), although better availability of molecular tests may account for much of the rise, as visits for ILIs have risen only slightly above the annual average.2 The northern hemisphere is now bracing for its turn.
Occasionally, influenza can cause severe illness or death, especially in elderly people. Sometimes different strains put unexpected population groups at risk (pregnant women, patients with asthma or diabetes, obese people). So what can we do to …