Australians can expect a stronger flu vaccine for next year’s season, following a record-setting number of cases in 2015.

Winter 2015 saw 90,000 cases of flu in the country, an increase of about 25,000 cases from the previous year.

Instead of the typical three flu strains, the new vaccine will comprise of four strains: two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains. Influenza B strains were thought to have caused most of the cases, or about 62 percent, during the recent winter in Australia.

The quadrivalent vaccine – aligned with recommendations from the World Health Organization for the southern hemisphere – is targeted to offer the best possible protection for the most at-risk.

“It's also important to remember we may be seeing more cases because more people are taking their flu symptoms seriously and going to see their doctor,” said Sussan Ley, the country’s Minister of Health in a press release.

The Australian government currently allots more than $40 million for flu immunization, which is believed to pose “serious health, social, productivity and economic threats” to the community each year, according to Ley.

The government will specifically offer two vaccines next year: one for ages three and above, and another for the below age three segment.

The National Immunization Program (NIP) deems individuals ages 65 and older, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders under age five and older than 15, pregnant women, and those with existing health conditions as most at risk for flu.

In the United Kingdom, the previous winter’s flu vaccine exhibited an unusually low effective rate against the primary circulating strains, or only 34 percent.

Children are of particular interest and will be given a nasal spray flu vaccine protecting against four strains. Public Health England’s flu surveillance head Dr. Richard Peabody said over 3.3 million youngsters across England would be offered the spray vaccine this winter, as the infection is more common in kids than adults.

“[A]s a result the childhood programme aims to control influenza better by both protecting the children themselves, but also by reducing transmission across the population," said Dr. Peabody.

In the United States, health care experts recommend the flu vaccination to everyone ages 6 months and above. The peak of the flu virus season usually overlaps with Christmas and New Year, with smaller spikes in cases once February enters.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine as the best form of protection against the flu, advising flu patients to stay at home until the fever has subsided for 24 hours. Frequent hand-washing is also highlighted as a primary prevention tool.

Photo: USACE Europe District | Flickr

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