13 December 2010
Following a recent increase in the level of seasonal influenza including H1N1 (2009) and influenza B circulating in the UK, the Department of Health has issued guidance on the use of antiviral drugs for the management of those influenza patients in England who are at higher risk of developing complications from flu.
Dr John Watson, a flu expert at the HPA, said: "Over the last few weeks we have seen a rise in the number of cases of flu in the community. We have also received reports of patients with serious illness requiring hospitalisation and outbreaks of flu in schools across the country.
"For most people, seasonal flu is not life threatening and usually lasts seven to ten days. However, it can be far more dangerous for those in at-risk groups, such as the elderly, pregnant women and patients with heart problems, diabetes or lung, liver or renal diseases, or those who have weak immune systems who are at risk of developing complications."
"Flu vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal influenza. If you are in an at risk group and you haven't had your jab, we recommend you make an appointment with your GP or medical practitioner now."
The flu H1N1 (2009) virus, formerly known as 'swine flu', is now one of the group of seasonal flu viruses circulating around the world. Following a pandemic, it is often the case that the pandemic strain becomes the most common seasonal strain of influenza the next flu season, so it in not surprising to see H1N1 (2009) circulating this winter.
This year's seasonal flu vaccine includes a H1N1 2009 component so that people who are vulnerable are protected against all the circulating strains. For the first time the seasonal vaccine is being offered to pregnant women as they were disproportionally affected by the H1N1 (2009) strain during the pandemic and are more at risk of serious complications.
Symptoms of seasonal flu include sudden onset of fever, cough as well as sore throat, aching muscles and joints. The best advice for treating flu in healthy people in the population is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take pain relievers such as paracetamol.
Maintaining good cough and hand hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon you can are important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of transmission.
Dr John Watson added: "Although unpleasant, flu is a self-limiting illness and if you have flu it is best to stay at home until well. If individuals in at risk groups develop symptoms consistent with flu or if anyone whose symptoms persist or become more severe then we advise they seek medical advice."
Notes to Editors:
1. Antivirals are drugs given to high risk patients who become ill with seasonal influenza. They are most effective if taken within 48 hours of onset and may help limit the impact of some symptoms and reduce the potential for serious complications. They are also used in some situations where it is important to help prevent people from getting influenza. The NICE guidance applies only when the number of people with flu reaches a high-enough level and there is good evidence that flu is 'circulating in the community'.
2. The Department of Health has now advised GPs to consider prescribing antiviral drugs where necessary in line with guidance issued from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). To see the current guidance please go to: www.nice.org.uk which has full guidance on the use of antivirals such as oseltamivir. It does not recommend antivirals for the prevention of flu in otherwise healthy people under 65, even if they have been in close contact with someone with a flu-like illness.
3. If you are suffering from flu you can get advice from NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or www.nhs.uk or visit your GP. For further information on flu go to: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/SeasonalInfluenza/ .
4. Seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for those aged 65 or over and those with the following conditions, regardless of age: chronic respiratory disease, heart disease, renal disease and chronic liver disease, diabetes requiring insulin or oral hypoglycaemic drugs, immunosuppression. Vaccination is also recommended for pregnant women and those living in long-stay residential care homes or other long stay care facilities where rapid spread is likely to follow introduction of infection and cause high morbidity and mortality (this does not include prisons, young offenders' institutions, or university halls of residence). Vaccination is also recommended for carer's defined as those who are in receipt of a carer's allowance, or those who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill. This should be given on an individual basis at the GP's discretion in the context of other clinical risk groups in their practice. In addition, it is recommended that immunisation be offered to all health care workers involved in the delivery of care and/or support to patients. Social service employers have also been asked to consider offering immunisation to all staff involved in the delivery of care and/or support to clients. The vaccine programme takes place between October - December but high risk individuals may still be able to obtain vaccine from their GP.
5. For media enquiries please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 020 8327 7098/6647/6690 or out of hours 020 8200 4400.
Last reviewed: 13 December 2010