MRINZ: Annual flu epidemic a no-show

Regan Fu

FluNet data showing almost no reported cases of influenza over the Southern Hemisphere 2020 winter season. Image: MRINZ.

In a letter published in The Lancet medical journal on 23 October, researchers from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) described historically low levels of influenza (the flu) this winter in the Southern Hemisphere. This was confirmed by data from the World Health Organization’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (FluNet), and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR). They think this is due to the community measures used to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, mask use, and travel restrictions. They suggest that some of these measures may help to mitigate the burden of annual influenza epidemics. If this was the case, it would mean that some of the death, sickness, and impact on healthcare systems could be avoided. While the Southern Hemisphere has escaped this year’s epidemic, the Northern Hemisphere may not be so lucky. If facing the dual burden of COVID-19 and influenza, there could be a “public health catastrophe” looming.


The curious case of influenza in the Southern Hemisphere – presenting results in comic form

Dr Ciléin Kearns from MRINZ is not only a senior research fellow but also an accomplished medical illustrator. He has turned his hand to explaining ‘the curious case of influenza in the Southern Hemisphere’ as a graphic narrative.

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, public health bodies, governments, and media outlets have turned to comics as a rapid and effective science communication tool to share information such as containment measures and statistics. Earlier in the year, Ciléin and Senior Research Fellow Dr Nethmi Kearns published a paper in the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine exploring the emerging role and research supporting comics as a public health tool.

They described that harnessing the power of visuals, text, and storytelling in an engaging comic format can make information more widely accessible to the public. By helping people understand the science of COVID-19 and the public health response, comics can help support the wide-spread behaviour changes needed to fight the pandemic.


Date posted: 25 November 2020

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