6 January 2011
Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) indicate that levels of seasonal flu may be starting to peak in England, Wales and Scotland. This is to be interpreted with caution as the rate of consultations will have decreased owing to school and GP surgeries closing over the holiday period.
Influenza A H1N1 (2009) 'swine' flu and Influenza B remain the predominant strains circulating although sporadic cases of H3N2 have also been seen. A small proportion of flu cases are resulting in severe disease, particularly in people under the age of 65.
In the past week, the HPA has been notified of a further 11 people who have died with confirmed flu, bringing the total number since the flu season began in October this year to 50. 45 of these people died with the H1N1 (2009) strain and five with Influenza B. The majority were under 65 years of age - eight cases between 5-14, 33 cases aged between15-64 and four cases over 64. Since October there have been five deaths in children under the age of five.
This mortality data is presented to give a picture of the characteristics of those that have died and the number should not be interpreted as including all those who may have died from flu or complications from flu, such as pneumonia, over the season. Precise figures for flu related deaths each winter are not available but estimates based on excess all cause mortality figures are typically in the region of 0-5,000, predominantly in people over 65 years of age.
Where information is available on the fatal cases, 33 out of 48 (69 per cent) of those who have died were in a clinical 'at risk' group for vaccination. Where information on vaccine status was available for this season's trivalent vaccine, only three people out of 39 had received their jab. And only one person out of 34 had received last year's pandemic vaccine.
Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: "Our latest flu report suggests levels of people seeing their doctor for flu-like illness is peaking. We cannot say at present whether this is the peak as the figures are potentially skewed by the holiday period. We will have a better idea of the likely trend in the next couple of weeks.
"However flu is still circulating and we 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: 9 February 2011