FLuQE variant of COVID takes hold

If you’ve noticed a higher-than-usual amount of winter illnesses this year, it’s no fluke. It is, however, quite possibly a ‘FLuQE’. That’s the name that’s been given to a new strain of COVID doing the rounds.

However, FLuQE is only one of a number of winter ailments taking Aussies down this year. In fact, there are five significant respiratory diseases circulating in the 2024 Southern Hemisphere winter. Along with FLuQE and other COVID variants, influenza, RSV, mycoplasma pneumonia and whooping cough are currently infecting people in high numbers.

While high circulation numbers of one or two  respiratory illnesses isn’t uncommon, all five at once is an unusual occurrence, according to specialists.

All about FLuQE

FLuQE, also known as KP.3, is a mutation of an earlier COVID variant known as FLiRT (and alternatively as KP.2). The names are catchy, and unfortunately so are the variants. The FLuQE subvariants are currently sweeping the US, and their numbers are on the rise here in Australia.

One reason for FLuQE’s rapid spread is its ability to bind with what are known as ACE2 receptors more readily. Professor Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, said this ability, along with its adeptness at dodging immune systems, made FLuQE more transmissible.

The other winter bugs taking us down

University of Queensland’s Professor Paul Griffin, an infectious diseases physician and clinical microbiologist, has been surprised by this year’s unusual confluence. “I don’t recall a time where we’ve had all five of those things circulating in such high numbers,” he said. “Certainly in our hospitals we are seeing sick people with the flu, which is really accelerating at the moment.”

Prof. Griffin said multiple diseases circulating simultaneously means “a very significant proportion of the population is infected or has recently been infected”.

The most surprising jump has been in the cases of whooping cough. Across Australia, more than 12,000 whooping cough cases have been recorded already this year. That number is six times greater than the 2023 total, and we are not yet at the midpoint of winter.

What should we do about FLuQE and the other bugs?

When it comes to COVID, the advice today remains as it was three years ago. Stay up to date with your vaccinations. With variants such as FLuQE continuing to evolve, this advice is as important as it was when COVID vaccinations arrived.

In the case of the flu, the same advice applies. A flu vaccination could save you and those around you – particularly the vulnerable – from needless winter woes.

On the matter of respiratory illnesses in general, the advice you probably received as a kid is still relevant. Cover your mouth when coughing, sneeze into a handkerchief if possible and stay home if you’re not feeling well.

Whether you have FLuQE or a common cold, the common sense principles of hygiene and health still apply. Given COVID remains one of the leading underlying causes of death in Australia, those principles are as important as ever.

Have you heard of the FLuQE variant of COVID? Are you COVID- and flu-free so far this winter? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: New government initiatives launched for long COVID sufferers

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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