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Abstract

Background

COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures, including travel restrictions, limited global circulation of influenza viruses. In Australia, travel bans for non-residents and quarantine requirements for returned travellers were eased in November 2021, providing pathways for influenza viruses to be re-introduced.

Aim

We aimed to describe the epidemiological and virological characteristics of the re-emergence of influenza in Victoria, Australia to inform public health interventions.

Methods

From 1 November 2021 to 30 April 2022, we conducted an epidemiological study analysing case notification data from the Victorian Department of Health to describe case demographics, interviewed the first 200 cases to establish probable routes of virus reintroduction and examined phylogenetic and antigenic data to understand virus diversity and susceptibility to current vaccines.

Results

Overall, 1,598 notifications and 1,064 positive specimens were analysed. The majority of cases (61.4%) occurred in the 15–34 years age group. Interviews revealed a higher incidence of international travel exposure during the first month of case detections, and high levels of transmission in university residential colleges were associated with return to campus. Influenza A(H3N2) was the predominant subtype, with a single lineage predominating despite multiple importations.

Conclusion

Enhanced testing for respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic provided a more complete picture of influenza virus transmission compared with previous seasons. Returned international travellers were important drivers of influenza reemergence, as were young adults, a group whose role has previously been under-recognised in the establishment of seasonal influenza epidemics. Targeting interventions, including vaccination, to these groups could reduce future influenza transmission.

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/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2023.28.37.2300118
2023-09-14
2024-07-15
http://instance.metastore.ingenta.com/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2023.28.37.2300118
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