16 December 2010
Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) indicate that levels of seasonal flu are increasing across the UK.
Vaccine uptake among those in 'at risk' groups remains low with just 40 per cent of such people under 65 taking up the offer of vaccination. Everyone over the age of 65 is entitled to the vaccine and uptake in this age group is 67 per cent.
The two main strains of flu circulating are Influenza B and H1N1 (2009) 'swine' flu. A small proportion of severe cases have been seen, particularly in people under the age of 65. This is due to the fact that H1N1 is more likely to affect younger people than the elderly, as was seen during the pandemic.
To date, 17 people with flu across the UK are known to have died since the flu season began in October this year. At least half of those who have died were in a clinical 'at risk' group for vaccination. Vaccination status is known for 14 of these 17 patients, none of whom had received this year's seasonal vaccine.
In addition, 17 people have this season received ECMO (Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation) treatment in a UK hospital following lung failure, including four pregnant women.
Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: "It's not unusual to see this level of flu activity at this time of the year but, due to the fact that the H1N1 swine flu is one of the predominant strains circulating at the moment, we are seeing more severe illness in people under the age of 65 than we would usually see.
"Flu can be an extremely serious illness for pregnant women, the elderly and those with other underlying conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, lung, liver or renal diseases and those who have weakened immune systems.
"Flu vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal flu and we urge all those in these 'at risk' groups - including pregnant women and healthcare workers - to get themselves vaccinated as soon as possible. It's not too late and it could save lives.
"For most people seasonal flu is not life threatening and usually lasts seven to ten days. The best advice is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take pain relievers such as paracetamol. But anyone displaying severe symptoms, particularly those in vulnerable groups should seek medical advice. The Department of Health has recently confirmed guidance on the use of antiviral drugs for the management of 'at risk' flu patients and it is hoped that this will help reduce the number of severe cases we are seeing."
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Last reviewed: 16 December 2010