Flu cases jump by 25% in a WEEK amid another rise in the number of intensive care admissions as officials warn just one in SIX schoolchildren have been vaccinated
- GPs in England held more than 7,200 appointments for flu-like illness last week
- Some 346 patients needed intensive care because of the fast-spreading virus
- Children’s vaccinations dropped after an unexpected delay to schools’ supplies
Flu cases in England have risen by a quarter in the past week, official figures show.
Last week there were more than 7,200 reported doctor’s appointments for people with flu-like symptoms.
This was up from around 5,800 the week before, and government data shows the flu virus is now circulating at low levels in England, Scotland and Wales.
Appointment numbers are almost twice as high as at the same time last year and 44 more people ended up in intensive care than in the last week of November.
Northern Ireland is being hit worse by the illness and has had ‘moderate’ levels of flu activity – the third highest of five categories – for two weeks in a row.
Figures now show just one in six (16.7 per cent) children between the ages of four and 11 have had a flu jab, down from 19.7 per cent at the same time last year.
Spikes in flu cases are one of the main reasons A&E departments become so crowded in the winter and quick rises as cold weather begins to set in could be an unwelcome omen for hospitals around the country.
Flu and similar cold-like illnesses are one of the biggest reasons that A&E departments get so busy in the winter and higher rates could be a sign of looming pressures for hospitals around the country (stock image)
For every 100,000 people in England, 13.1 attended a GP appointment complaining of flu symptoms last week – almost double the 7.6 in the same week last year.
The sharp rise in cases comes after children’s flu vaccines were hit by delays of up to a month because of a pharmaceutical company’s testing problem.
In September and October, the Government warned schools they would have to reschedule some of their vaccination sessions because of a drug shortage.
Public Health England statistics released today show 124 people were admitted to intensive care because of flu last week and eight people died.
Last week this was just 80 intensive admissions and three deaths, and in this week last year it was only 37 admissions and two deaths.
The vast majority of people who catch the flu will recover within a couple of weeks.
But vulnerable patients such as the elderly, young children or those with serious illnesses can become severely sick and die from complications such as pneumonia.
Health authorities said the annual flu outbreak, which happens every winter, is now well and truly under way.
Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, head of flu at PHE, said: ‘Flu season has now started and so it’s really important that people get their flu vaccine as soon as possible to ensure they are protected against this potentially very serious illness.
‘The initial evidence suggests the vaccine is a good match for the main strain of flu that is circulating.’
As well as higher numbers of GP appointments, hospitals have also seen greater numbers of people being diagnosed with flu.
The number of flu cases confirmed in hospitals in the week to December 8 was 472, up from 330 the week before.
Calls to NHS 111 regarding cold and flu also continue to increase and stand at ‘medium intensity levels’, with ‘highest activity noted in the five to 14 years age group and in the north of England’, Public Health England’s report said.
A&E attendances for bronchiolitis – a common chest infection – also showed a further increase in children aged under one.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘Winter is certainly upon us and our figures show rates of influenza-like-illness are higher than the five-year average, although still within levels that would be expected at this time of year.
‘The rise is particularly notable in patients aged five to 14, and in practices in the north of England.
‘We would recommend that patients with flu stay at home until they’re over the worst to reduce the risk of passing the virus onto people who may be more vulnerable to the illness, such as the elderly, people with long-term conditions, pregnant women and younger children.’
He urged parents of young children to have them vaccinated as soon as possible because it’s the ‘best protection we have’.