Domestic travel key to distribution of flu across Australia

January 12, 2018, Macquarie University
Credit: William Brawley

New scientific research on the spread of flu across Australia has revealed that all major cities appear to experience outbreaks of flu around the same time each year, published today in PLOS Pathogens.

The research has also shown that commuting to work is less important than long distance domestic travel in looking at the overall spread of flu throughout Australia.

The researchers used influenza surveillance data collected between 2007-2016 from more than 2500 postcodes to map the spread of the across Australia.

The results reveal remarkable synchrony in right across the country – and that outbreaks are particularly synchronous in 'big flu' years, when the is somewhat novel and there is little immunity in the population.

"We have shown that influenza enters Australia multiple times from the global population – this highlights the highly globalised world in which we live. It spreads almost instantaneously throughout Australia – likely driven by both highly domestically connected cities. During the 2009 swine flu pandemic for example, we found that all postcodes experienced outbreaks at the same time," said Dr. Jemma Geoghegan from the Department of Biological Sciences.

Short-range commuter transmission has not played a major role in epidemic spread due to the apparent lack of radial virus dispersal observed in Australia, but rather domestic travel accounts for this dispersal.

"The Sydney-Melbourne flight route is the third busiest flight route in the world, as well as having multiple entries from other countries from around the world. In the event of a , we really need coordinated surveillance right across Australia, especially in the major centres," said Dr. Jemma Geoghegan from the Department of Biological Sciences.

This study is the first study of the spread of influenza virus across Australia, which provides a unique perspective of the spread of flu across a continent spanning tropical and temperate climates.

The data used by the researchers is laboratory confirmed, meaning that they have been confirmed to be the virus that causes the flu – many other studies use only 'influenza-like' illness data, which is estimated to be flu virus only 30 per cent of the time.

"That outbreaks of flu to reach all around the same time highlights the importance of a highly coordinated public health response right across Australia, especially in the event of the emergence of a novel virus," concluded Dr. Geoghegan.

In light of the speed with which novel viruses spread, the most populous cities experience synchronised epidemics, and these observations may be used to inform prospective pandemic planning efforts both in Australia and in other highly urbanised localities.

Explore further: The U.S. may be in for a tough flu season—4 questions answered

More information: Jemma L. Geoghegan et al. Continental synchronicity of human influenza virus epidemics despite climactic variation, PLOS Pathogens (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006780

Related Stories

The U.S. may be in for a tough flu season—4 questions answered

December 20, 2017
This year, Australia suffered a record number of flu infections. This has some experts concerned that the U.S. will suffer a harsh flu season as well. Irena Kenneley, associate professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve ...

Three new noroviruses cause gastro outbreaks across Australia

September 13, 2016
UNSW scientists have identified three new strains of highly contagious norovirus that are responsible for a major new epidemic of viral gastroenteritis that has affected hundreds of thousands of Australians over winter.

Tracking a moving target

July 15, 2011
The influenza pandemic that began in Mexico in April 2009 rapidly spread throughout the world and arrived in Japan one month later. Now, a research team led by Toshihisa Ishikawa at the RIKEN Omics Science Center in Yokohama ...

New analysis of 'swine flu' pandemic conflicts with accepted views on how diseases spread (w/ Video)

July 1, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—New analysis of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the US shows that the pandemic wave was surprisingly slow, and that its spread was likely accelerated by school-age children

Recommended for you

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.