31 December 2010
Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) indicate that levels of seasonal flu are continuing to increase across the UK.
The two main strains of flu circulating are Influenza A H1N1 (2009) 'swine' flu and Influenza B, with H1N1 being the predominant strain. A small proportion of flu cases are resulting in severe disease, particularly in people under the age of 65. This is due to the fact that H1N1 is more likely to infect young people and, unfortunately, a very small number of these may develop severe disease.
In the past week, the HPA has been notified of a further 12 people who have died with confirmed flu, bringing the total number since the flu season began in October this year to 39. 36 of these people died with the H1N1 (2009) strain and 3 with Influenza B. All except one case were under 65 years of age and four were under the age of five.
Where information is available on the fatal cases, 23 out of 38 (61 per cent) of those who have died were in a clinical 'at risk' group for vaccination. Where vaccination status is known for this season's trivalent vaccine, only two people out of 33 had received their jab. Last year's pandemic vaccine was only received by one person out of 30, where information is available.
Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: "We are seeing a large amount of flu circulating across the country and would urge those people in an at-risk group to have their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible as this is the best way to protect themselves from flu this winter.
"Although there were reports of many people during the pandemic only experiencing mild disease we can't stress enough that flu can be an extremely serious illness for people in 'at risk' groups, including 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.
"Most people with flu can 'self care' by taking plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and taking over the counter pain relievers such as paracetamol. But anyone displaying severe symptoms, particularly those in vulnerable groups should contact their GP or local out-of-hours service for medical advice.
Professor Watson continued: "It is important that people do all they can to reduce the spread of the virus and they can do this by 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. These are all important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of flu transmission."
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Last reviewed: 31 December 2010