Flu epidemic set to hit Britain within fortnight as 83 million now
Dr Richard Pebody, PHE acting head of respiratory diseases department, said: “The flu survey is an on-line survey, which was set up during the swine flu pandemic in 2009 as an indicator of flu activity in the community. Around 7,500 people around the country are currently registered with survey and, during the winter, they voluntarily report if they have had flu-like symptoms during the previous week. A flu epidemic will hit England within a fortnight, if current trends continue, according to latest figures suggesting more than eight million people are now suffering symptoms.The new data shows a “significant excess” of deaths among over 65s in England, and among those in all age groups in Scotland and Northern Ireland.Across England, flu levels are currently approaching high levels, the statistics from Public Health England show, with a 2.5 fold rise in cases in the last two weeks.If current trends continue, it means England will reach epidemic levels within a fortnight.Health officials had been fearful about the impact of a strain of flu A (H3N2) dubbed “Aussie flu” after it fuelled the worst flu season in Australia for a decade. “The best prevention for flu, other than observing good hygienic practices, such as regular hand washing, is for people, particularly those in at-risk groups, including patients with long-term conditions and pregnant women, to get their flu jab. It is not too late to receive some benefit from vaccination.“If someone does have the flu, unfortunately there is no cure, but patients can assist their own recovery through taking plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids as it is easy to become dehydrated. Fevers and muscle ache, which are often symptoms of flu can also be improved with paracetamol or ibuprofen, if appropriate. But NHS senior managers say GPs were put under pressure by health officials to choose the cheaper option – excluding the Japanese strain now spreading through hospitals.The latest statistics suggest around 4,500 people were admitted to hospital with flu last week.Of those, 61 per cent – were suffering influenza B, the vast majority with the B-Yamagata strain.The latest report includes estimates suggesting that more than 15 per cent of people have been left suffering influenza-like illness in the past week – equating to more than 8.3 million people.Those figures come from internet-based surveillance run by PHE and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Separate statistics published today by PHE covering GP consultations show 53.1 consultations per 100,000 people in England last week, compared with rates of 37.3 per 100,000 people last week, and 21 per 100,000 in the last week of December. Health officials said levels were highest among those aged 45 to 64.The report shows 120 deaths from flu have now been confirmed in England, a rise from 85 on record last week.Broken down by region, the latest figures show Midlands and East England, which includes Birmingham, Norwich and Nottingham, was worst affected, followed by North England, including Manchester, York and Newcastle. The Royal College of GPs said the figures represented a 150 per cent rise in flu rates since the start of the year, with an estimated 31,300 patients in England attending their GP practice with flu symptoms in the week ending 14 January.Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “General practice continues to face huge winter pressures with a significant increase in patients presenting with influenza, and high numbers of patients continuing to present with other common winter illnesses.“Wintertime always brings challenges for the health service, and GP practices have prepared well in order to deliver the best possible care for patients. But patients can also help in keeping themselves safe and well during the cold weather. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. But the new figures suggest that B strains are now dominating, making up more than six in ten hospitalised cases last week. The vast majority of those cases involve a strain called B-Yamagata – known as “Japanese flu” – which is not covered by the vaccines most patients have received.Two types of vaccine were available to the NHS – a £5 trivalent version covering three main strains of flu, and an £8 quadrivalent version protecting against four strains. “This means number of participants at a local level will be small and figures should thus be interpreted with caution. It is just one of a range of indicators which PHE flu surveillance considers when looking at the position across the country each week.” “We do encourage patients who are ill to think hard about whether they do need to see a GP – not just in terms of reducing pressures on the NHS, but to minimise the possibility of passing viruses, such as flu, to other people, particularly in at-risk groups, such as those with long-term conditions or pregnant women.”Professor Paul Cosford, medical director, PHE said: “Our data continues to show that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospital with flu.“In terms of hospital admission, this is the most significant flu season since the winter of 2010/11 and the preceding pandemic year of 2009 although it is not an epidemic.“We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia. The A(H3N2) strain particularly affects older, more vulnerable age groups.