Date: Sun 18 Aug 2019 12:23 AM AEST
Source: ABC [edited]
<https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-18/influenza-spike-may-be-climate-related/11406980>

The national death toll officially stands at 430, although the real figure could be much higher with experts saying some deaths are attributed to other causes despite flu-related complications.

In Queensland this year [2019], at least 84 people have died. Jianyun Lu, has travelled from China to study the unusual flu season under the tutelage of the University of Queensland's, Kirsty Short.

They have discovered a slight association with climatic factors, but not enough to account for the large spike. "We can't explain 100 per cent why, when it's over 25 degrees Celsius [77 deg F], we have a very sharp increase," Dr Lu said.

So they have turned their attention to the virus itself.  There was an unusual number of children hospitalised with flu over summer [2018-19] and it's the strains isolated from those patients that the researchers have under the microscope.

Dr Short said they are investigating whether certain mutations were enabling the virus to "survive longer in the environment", or allowing it to "transmit better".  "By the end of the year [2019], I think we'll have a good understanding of potential factors that could have contributed to our unusual summer flu," Dr Short said.

Professor Barr identified a large outbreak in the Northern Territory at the end of last year [2018], and a mild-2018 influenza season as contributing factors and said there needed to be year-round surveillance.  "In Australia we rely on a number of different reporting mechanisms, so we can track influenza seasons. Some of these are run all year round, but a number of them, such as the surveillance in hospitals, only run from April to November," he said.  "We need to be better prepared. Maybe we can tweak the vaccination timings if we see these early outbreaks."  A record 12.5 million vaccines have been distributed so far this year [2019].  [Byline: Dea Clark]
========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Australia:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/285>]
Date: Fri 23 Aug 2019
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald [abridged, edited]
<https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/measles-alert-issued-after-two-new-cases-in-returning-travellers-20190823-p52k6l.html>

New South Wales (NSW) residents have been advised to vaccinate themselves against measles after 2 returning travellers were diagnosed with the disease. Both people diagnosed with the infection are aged in their 40s. They bring the total number of measles notifications for NSW to 37 this year (2019), compared with 13 notifications for the same period last year (2018), data from NSW Health show.

Both NSW residents, returning from South America and New Zealand, respectively, remain isolated in hospital for management of complications from their infections. Dr Vicky Sheppeard, director of communicable diseases NSW Health, said that after their return to Australia both cases visited locations in Sydney while infectious on [15 and 16 Aug 2019] [see source URL for locations]. "Anyone who was in the same locations as the cases [on these dates] should be alert for signs and symptoms of measles until [8 Sep 2019]," Dr Sheppeard said. "None of the locations visited by these 2 people pose an ongoing risk."  [byline: Laura Chung]
Date: Wed 21 Aug 2019
Source: The Canberra Times [edited]
<https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6340592/health-officials-investigate-hepatitis-a-outbreak-in-canberra/>

Australian Capital Territory (ACT) health officials are investigating a cluster of hepatitis A cases in Canberra's South Korean community. There have been 8 cases of the virus in the ACT and Sydney since June 2019. The cluster of cases comes as South Korea experiences a large outbreak of the virus, with more than 11,000 cases reported in the country in 2019.

ACT Health said it was working with its counterparts in New South Wales to investigate the cause of the outbreak. An ACT Health spokesman said most of the people affected by hepatitis A in recent weeks in Canberra had not reported travelling overseas recently. "Australia has a low incidence of hepatitis A, and when outbreaks occur, they are linked to consumption of contaminated food products or person-to-person spread," the spokesperson said. "However, at this stage of the investigation, no specific food has been connected to the outbreak."

Symptoms of the virus may include nausea, vomiting, fever and yellowing of the skin, dark urine and pale stools.

"The ACT Health directorate is reminding the South Korean community in Canberra and anyone travelling to South Korea, of the importance of vaccination prior to travel and practicing good hand hygiene to reduce the risk of spread," the spokesman said. Health officials have recommended at least one dose of a hepatitis A vaccination before travel. Two doses prevent an infection.

Handwashing in soap and water for at least 15 seconds has also been recommended by health officials to help prevent the spread of the virus.
===================
[Since no travel was involved, it is not clear if the cases were from imported food, food contaminated by an infected food handler or from transmission from an asymptomatic person. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Australia:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/186>.]
Date: Thu 25 Jul 2019 4:14 PM AEST
Source: Mirage News [edited]
<https://www.miragenews.com/meningococcal-w-disease-in-an-adult/>

The Department of Health today [25 Jul 2019] reported that an adult is currently recovering after being diagnosed with meningococcal disease serogroup W, bringing the number of reported cases of invasive meningococcal disease in 2019 to 13. Of the 13 cases, 3 have been serogroup B, 5 serogroup W, and 5 serogroup C meningococcal infections.

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, life-threatening illness caused by a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain, and occasionally of other sites, such as the throat, lungs or large joints.

A total of 41 cases were notified in WA [Western Australia] in 2018. This was less than the 46 cases notified in 2017, but well above the long-term average for annual cases. The number of serogroup W cases in 2018 (30) was also the highest reported in any year.

A vaccine to protect against 4 serogroups of the meningococcal disease (serogroups A, C, W and Y) is offered free to all children in WA at 12 months of age, with a catch-up program for children who have not yet received the vaccine and who are aged 1-4 years. Due to a higher rate of meningococcal disease in Aboriginal people in WA, Aboriginal children are offered vaccination from age 6 weeks to 4 years of age. In addition, the vaccine is offered to all teenagers in Year 10, with a catch up program for 15-19 years.
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[_Neisseria meningitidis_, the cause of meningococcal disease, only infects humans; there is no animal reservoir, and the organism dies quickly outside the human host. _N. meningitidis_ colonizes the mucosal membranes of the nose and throat; up to 5-10 percent of a population may be asymptomatic nasopharyngeal carriers, but the carrier rate may be higher in epidemic situations. Droplets of nasopharyngeal secretions from these carriers are responsible for the spread of the disease. Close and prolonged contact with an infected person or a carrier facilitates the spread of the disease. The average incubation period is 4 days but can range between 2 and 10 days.

Immunity following use of a meningococcal capsular polysaccharide vaccine is specific for the type of capsular polysaccharide that the vaccine contains, with no cross-protection against infection due to other meningococcal polysaccharide groups. Although there are at least 13 _N. meningitidis_ serogroups, based on the antigenic specificity of their capsular polysaccharides, disease due to serogroups A, B, C, Y, and W are most common.

There are vaccines that contain capsular polysaccharide (A, C, Y, W), either alone or conjugated to protein. Conjugate vaccines are preferable, because, unlike the polysaccharide vaccines, conjugate vaccines immunize infants, reduce the carriage of meningococci in the throat and thus its transmission, as well as confer a more sustained immune response, and, therefore, longer-term protection than the polysaccharide vaccines. Serogroup B vaccines are based upon meningococcal B protein antigens, because group B capsular polysaccharide is poorly immunogenic in humans and is a potential auto-antigen.

Following the mass introduction into the population of a vaccine specific for one particular serogroup, the incidence of disease due to that serogroup has been found to fall dramatically, e.g., serogroup C disease in the UK following the introduction of C vaccine and serogroup A in the African Meningitis Belt following A vaccine, only to be replaced by emergence of disease due to other meningococcal serogroups.

In Australia, following the introduction of the conjugate meningococcal C vaccine in 2003, there has been a significant and sustained reduction in serogroup C meningococcal cases from 34 per cent of cases in 2003 to 5.7 per cent in 2012, accompanied by an increase in serogroup B from 60 per cent in 2003 to 83 per cent in 2012 (<http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/cda-cdi3703-pdf-cnt.htm/$FILE/cdi3703e.pdf>). ProMED-mail reported in 2016 that serogroup W, rather than B, had become predominant in Western Australia (ProMED-mail post Meningitis, meningococcal - Australia (03): (WA) sg. W http://promedmail.org/post/20160925.4513543).

Because of the replacement of serogroup C by serogroup W, quadrivalent conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine was funded in 2017 by Western Australia for grade 10-12 students and persons aged 15-19 years who no longer attend school and then in 2018 funded for all children in Australia at 12 months of age, replacing meningococcal C vaccine, and in 2019 for adolescents aged 14-19 years; MenACWY vaccine is strongly recommended, but not funded, for adolescents and young adults aged 20-24 years who live in close quarters or who are current smokers (<http://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2019-04/Meningococcal-history-April-2019.pdf> and <http://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2019-05/Childhood-schedule-table_May_2019_Final.pdf>).

MenACWY vaccine is also strongly recommended, but not funded, for: infants younger than 12 months of age; adolescents and young adults aged 20-24 years who live in close quarters or who are current smokers; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 2 months to 19 years; infants and children aged 2 months and older with medical conditions associated with an increased risk of meningococcal disease (additional doses and boosters required); and travellers to areas where meningococcal disease is more common (<http://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2019-05/Childhood-schedule-table_May_2019_Final.pdf>).

The B vaccine is strongly recommended, but not funded, for: infants and children younger than 2 years of age; adolescents aged 15-19 years; adolescents and young adults aged 15-24 years who live in close quarters or who are current smokers; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 2 months to 19 years; and infants and children aged 2 months and older with medical conditions associated with an increased risk of meningococcal disease  (<http://ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2019-05/Childhood-schedule-table_May_2019_Final.pdf>).

Western Australia, covering the entire western 1/3 of Australia, is mostly arid, its population being concentrated in the fertile southwest corner and its capital, Perth (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Australia>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/289>]
Date: Wed 17 Jul 2019 12:48 AM
Source: ABC News [edited]
<https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-17/four-more-dead-in-one-of-was-worst-flu-seasons-in-a-decade/11314670>

More than 50 people have died from influenza-related illness in Western Australia this season [2019]; the number of new cases has slowed, but authorities do not know if the worst is over; and there has been a big increase in the number of WA parents vaccinating young children. Influenza has claimed 4 more lives in the past week in what is shaping up as Western Australia's most deadly flu season in a decade.

However experts say cases appear to be on the decline, suggesting the worst may be over from a virus that is notoriously difficult to combat through vaccination. This time last year [2018] there had been 2009 confirmed cases and just 5 deaths.

So far this year [2019] WA deaths from influenza-related illnesses have increased 940 per cent to 52, and confirmed cases of the flu have jumped 860 per cent to 19 327. But the Health Department has warned against directly comparing the number of confirmed cases this year with previous years, noting that this year's season began about 2 months earlier than normal. It was too soon to know if the flu season would end early, and therefore ultimately be on par with previous seasons in terms of overall severity.

UWA [University of Western Australia] clinical professor David Smith, a director of the National Influenza Centre, said 2018 had been "a very quiet" flu season, with 21 deaths in WA. "And that possibly means that the population as a whole hasn't been primed well to be ready for the influenza activity this year [2019].

Lauren Bloomfield from Edith Cowan University's School of Medical and Health Sciences said while the number of cases this year was high, there had been a downward trend over the past few weeks. "It's certainly slowing down," she said. "And hopefully it will come to an end soon."

The department's message about the importance of vaccinating against the flu appeared to be getting through to parents, with 46% of children aged 6 months to 5 years recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register, compared to just 16% at the same time last year [2018]. But Dr Bloomfield said getting a shot would not necessarily prevent someone from coming down with the flu, and urged people to adjust their expectations of the seasonal vaccine. "Many people would be used to getting a vaccine once in their life, and going on to have protection that lasts years or perhaps a whole lifetime," she said. "But influenza changes so quickly and so often that we need a new vaccine for it every year."

Each year the World Health Organisation gathers data and uses it to predict what strains of flu are most likely to be circulating in either the northern or southern hemispheres in the coming season. From those predictions they design a vaccine they think wil be a good match. But Dr Bloomfield said it is never foolproof. "There is no guarantee that the vaccines are going to be a very good match for the flu strains that are circulating, and we have seen some years when there has been quite a bad mismatch," she said.

Dr Bloomfield said the Health Department constantly measured what was known as "vaccine effectiveness". "But unfortunately, we do need quite a few people to get the flu in order to be able to test how effective the vaccine was," she said. "It can vary between the strains and it can vary from year to year." She said while interim testing suggested this year's [3019] vaccine was a good match for the strains of influenza spreading across WA, the department would not know for sure until around September. "We're going to have to wait unfortunately until the season is a bit further along to find out how well we go the vaccine matched this year," she said.  [byline: Charlotte Hamlyn]
======================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Western Australia, Australia:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/289>]
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