Influenza is a major public health problem. New strains of flu continually evolve, which means that they can spread despite relatively high levels of immunity in the population. This leads to epidemics that occur every winter and are associated with perhaps thousands of hospitalisations and deaths annually. There are many unanswered questions that we are trying to address within cmmid: Why does flu peak in the winter? What is the relationship between population immunity, evolution of new flu strains, and epidemic severity? Can we predict how severe an epidemic might be? What has the impact of vaccination been, and should we alter our national vaccination campaign?
Periodically, the flu virus undergoes a major evolutionary change, which results in a global pandemic as we are all likely to have lower levels of immunity to these strains. The last such event occurred in 2009, though the impact of this strain was not as severe as had been feared. Members of cmmid, along with colleagues at the HPA, were actively engaged in monitoring the spread of flu, analysing the epidemiological data, predicting the course of the epidemic, and offering policy advice to the Department of Health and other bodies.
During the pandemic we set up the flusurvey – an online influenza monitoring tool in which members of the public report their symptoms each week. The flusurvey now runs every winter, and it gives an invaluable insight into the spread of flu in the community.
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