20 January 2011
Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) indicate that flu activity across the UK is now declining. Nevertheless flu is still circulating in the community and influenza A H1N1 (2009) 'swine' flu and influenza B remain the predominant strains. A small proportion of flu continues to result in severe disease, particularly in people under the age of 65.
In the past week, the number of number of GP consultations in England has fallen to 66.5 per 100,000, down from 108.4 per 100,000 the previous week. Vaccine uptake among under 65s in a clinical ‘at risk’ group has reached 48 per cent. Uptake among the over 65s – who are routinely offered the vaccine – is 71.7 per cent.
The total number of people who are reported to have died from flu in the UK since the season began in October has reached 254. The vast majority of the new deaths reported today (142) did not occur in the past week - a substantial number will have occurred over the past six weeks, but due to the backlog over the Christmas and New Year holiday period they have only been confirmed this week.
This mortality data is collected by the HPA in order to understand the key characteristics of the groups that have been affected by flu and provide vital information to front line clinicians and the Department of Health to enable them to make the best decisions on how to prevent, treat and manage flu over the course of a season.
These figures represent only a proportion of those who may have died from flu or complications from flu, such as pneumonia, over the current flu 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.
Of the 254 confirmed deaths to date, information is available on 214 patients. Of these 195 had the H1N1 (2009) strain, three had untyped influenza A and 16 had influenza B. Information on age is available on 210 patients who have died, the majority of those were under 65 years of age – 11 were aged 5-14, 137 were 15-64 and 55 cases were in people aged 65 and over. Since October there have been seven deaths in children under the age of five.
Where information is available on the fatal cases, 128 out of 159 (81 per cent) were in a clinical 'at risk' group for vaccination. Where information on vaccine status was available for this season’s trivalent vaccine, 59 out of 71 (83 per cent) had not received their jab this season.
Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: "Our latest flu report suggests levels of flu are declining across the UK but nonetheless flu is still circulating in the community and the message remains that people in an at-risk group should get the seasonal flu vaccine – it’s not too late to protect yourself from flu this season.
"Flu is an unpleasant but self-limiting illness for most people but we can’t stress enough how it 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.
“Ongoing HPA surveillance continues to indicate a modest increase in cases of some invasive bacterial infections such as pneumococcal and meningococcal disease and invasive Group A streptococcal Infection (iGAS) which may follow on from or be associated with influenza. Although we expect to see more cases of these bacterial infections during the winter months the HPA is monitoring the situation closely and currently investigating whether co-infection with flu is contributing to these increases.
“As a result of this surveillance, the Chief Medical Officer last week reminded front line clinicians to be aware of the signs and symptoms of certain bacterial infections and remain vigilant for the possibility of severe illness due to possible co-infection with influenza. The severity of these conditions means that prompt identification and treatment are essential.”
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.”
Notes to editors:
Last reviewed: 9 February 2011