The flu outbreak wreaking havoc this winter could cause Parkinson’s disease, a study warns as the killer ‘Aussie’ virus continues to spread.
Scientists have found ‘evidence’ swine flu, known as H1N1, can lead to the incurable neurodegenerative condition. It is currently active in the UK.
Trials on mice showed the strain, responsible for 300,000 deaths across the world in 2009, leaves sufferers susceptible to toxins known to trigger Parkinson’s.
Other strains circulating the UK currently, including H3N2 – known as ‘Aussie flu’ and B Yamagata – branded ‘Japanese flu’ – could pose the same threat.
The Thomas Jefferson University study comes amid the rapid spread of flu in the UK, with H1N1 being one of the strains floating around.
The death toll across the home nations is known to have hit 97 – with more fatalities expected in the coming weeks.
The parents of an 18-year-old girl in Scotland, called Bethany Walker, attracted national attention when they revealed their daughter died from the flu last week.
Scientists have found ‘evidence’ swine flu, known as H1N1, can lead to the incurable neurodegenerative condition
‘TOUGH’ MOTHER WAS LEFT UNABLE TO EAT FOR FOUR DAYS AFTER CATCHING ‘AUSSIE FLU’
A ‘tough’ mother was left unable to walk or eat for four days after she caught the dreaded ‘Aussie flu’, her daughter claims.
Tina Knight, 55, relied on her daughter, Kady, to care for her for an entire week after the killer virus took hold of her body.
Bed-ridden Tina was unable to wear a blanket because her skin was so sore during her 10-day battle, which is finally showing signs of being over.
She also struggled to breathe and swallow, forcing Kady, 29, to take her to A&E with flu-like symptoms – despite official advice not to.
Nursery worker Kady, from Brighton, spent the whole of last week off work to look after her mother, who was ‘frightened’ by her symptoms.
Tina Knight, 55, relied on her daughter, Kady, to care for her for an entire week after the killer virus took hold of her body (pictured together)
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Kady, who returned to work yesterday, said: ‘Even she looked frightened.
‘She said to me she was actually really scared at one point because she had never been this ill before.’
Tina was struck down with flu on January 5. Her condition quickly deteriorated over that weekend.
Kady said: ‘My mum’s quite tough, she doesn’t let things bring her down, she just carries on normally, but she had to go straight to bed.
‘By day three or four she hadn’t eaten. I went shopping and bought her some soup hoping she would be able to eat that.
‘But her throat had gone really sore, she was struggling to breathe and swallow and couldn’t have the soup.’
Kady also revealed her mother was rapidly switching between hot and cold and would get dizzy whenever she stood up to walk.
Nursery worker Kady, from Brighton, spent the whole of last week off work to look after her mother, who was ‘frightened’ by her symptoms
Alongside her flu-like symptoms, she suffered from stabbing pains in her chest – similar to a heart attack – and coughed up blood.
Kady said: ‘Mum couldn’t walk, and I was too scared to leave her. It was really scary at one point when she was struggling to breathe.’
Doctors have been unable to confirm what strain of flu Tina was struck down by, but it could be H3N2 – known as ‘Aussie flu’.
Kady added: ‘He [the GP] did say to us that it was probably Aussie flu because of how bad the symptoms were.’
She claims she has ‘no idea how’ she didn’t catch the virus of her mother – even though she was quarantined upstairs.
Tina, who still has a bad cough, is ‘finally getting better’ – but her family have to keep a close eye on her to make sure she doesn’t get worse.
Cases of flu have also soared by 35 per cent, Government figures showed yesterday as officials try to contain the outbreak that is spreading rapidly.
Projections claim that the flu will become an epidemic by the end of the month, with the UK being hit by a number of strains simultaneously.
The new study found having been infected with the flu once leaves sufferers prone to the effects of toxins believed to lead to Parkinson’s.
Coming down with flu at least once may also worsen the symptoms of the disease in later life, which include tremors, slow movements and stiff muscles.
Lead author Professor Richard Smeyne said: ‘This study has provided more evidence to support the idea environmental factors, including influenza, may be involved in Parkinson’s disease.
‘Even mice who fully recover from H1N1 influenza… are later more susceptible to chemical toxins known to trigger Parkinson’s in the lab.
‘The H1N1 virus that we studied belongs to the family of type A influenzas, which we are exposed to on a yearly basis.
‘Although the work presented here has yet to be replicated in humans, we believe it provides good reason to investigate this relationship further.’
He suggested the seasonal flu vaccine could have significant impact on long-term brain health, if the results prove true on humans.
Professor David Dexter, deputy director of research at Parkinson’s UK, welcomed the findings.
He said: ‘This study supports anecdotal evidence that major viral infections, such as the flu, can act as a tipping point, or speed up the onset of Parkinson’s for those who have the condition but don’t yet know they have it.
‘This study also shows that a flu injection, for some, may reduce the damage to precious brain cells lost in Parkinson’s.
‘While a lot of exciting research is happening in this area, we still do not fully understand the causes of Parkinson’s.’
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people and around 127,000 people in the UK live with the condition. It is believed one million Americans also suffer.
High-profile victims include the actor Michael J Fox, who was diagnosed at the age of only 29, and the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
ASPIRING RAPPER, 15 DIES FROM THE ‘FLU’
Sean Hughes, from Dublin, passed away in hospital on Friday from ‘flu’
A 15-year-old boy died from the ‘flu’, his heartbroken parents have revealed.
Sean Hughes, from Dublin, passed away in hospital on Friday – after being rushed for emergency treatment the evening before.
Doctors were adamant the aspiring rapper, known to his friends as Lil’ Red, had the flu when they saw him on Wednesday.
Tributes have flooded in for Sean, who was ‘loved by everyone’ and described as a ‘larger-than-life young man’ who was ‘way ahead of his years’.
Speaking at their family home, his grieving father Joe told the Irish Sun: ‘We are still waiting for answers.
‘It was a very bad chest infection to start off with and there were complications after that.
‘He went into the hospital. He had the chest infection a few days before that. He just passed away after a sudden illness.’
His mother, Karen, revealed they took him to the GP on Wednesday – two days before he died – to discuss his flu-like symptoms.
The doctor said ‘he has the flu’. His condition rapidly worsened and he was taken to Temple Street Hospital on the Thursday.
His parents are reluctant to talk about Sean’s death because they can’t confirm that it was the flu that killed him.
Hundreds of relatives, friends and locals have since visited the family’s home to pay their respects for the young rapper.
Touching stories of how Sean, a fan of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, helped the elderly and bullying victims have also been unearthed.
His father plans to give out some of his CDs in the next few days as the community copes with the ‘big impact’ his death has had.
Evidence already exists to suggest bird flu can trigger Parkinson’s-like symptoms in mice.
The new study, published in npj Parkinson’s Disease, looked at H1N1 – which is less lethal.
Researchers found it causes inflammation in the brain and triggers the release of cytokines – a protein released when the body fights an infection.
WHAT FLU STRAINS ARE IN THE UK?
There are many different types of flu circulating around the world, but four main types are being seen in Britain this winter.
H3N2 – Dubbed ‘Aussie flu’ after it struck Australia hard last winter, this strain is more likely to affect the elderly, who do not respond well to the current vaccine. This is one of the most common strains seen so far this winter, with 63 confirmed cases seen in official laboratories.
H1N1 – This strain – known as ‘swine flu’ – is generally more likely to hit children, who respond well to vaccination. This has been seen nearly as often as H3N2 so far this year, with 50 cases confirmed in labs. In the past it was only commonly caught from pigs, but that changed in 2009 when it started spreading rapidly among humans in a major global pandemic.
B / Yamagata – This is known as ‘Japanese flu’. Only people who received the ‘four strain’ vaccine – which is being slowly rolled out after it was introduced for the first time this winter – are protected against the Yamagata strain. Those who received the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine are not protected, and it has been seen in 63 lab cases so far this winter.
B / Victoria – This strain is vaccinated against in the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine, but has hardly appeared so far this winter, with just four confirmed cases.
Studies have repeatedly shown that Parkinson’s patients have higher levels of cytokines, while inflammation is widely considered to be a trigger of the disease.
The study also showed that mice infected with the flu had more severe Parkinson’s symptoms than those which didn’t.
The rocketing number of flu cases in the UK has been put down to a surge in two aggressive subtypes attacking the population simultaneously.
One includes the so-called ‘Aussie flu’, a strain of influenza A which triggered triple the number of expected cases in Australia during the country’s winter.
Experts fear the virulent H3N2 strain, which has now reached the UK, could prove as deadly to humanity as the Hong Kong flu in 1968, which killed one million people.
The other is a strain of influenza B, called Yamagata and dubbed ‘Japanese flu’, which has been blamed for the majority of cases so far this winter.
Its rapid spread has raised concerns because it is not covered in a vaccine given to the elderly. However, experts claim it is less severe.
Usually, just one subtype, either influenza A or B, is responsible for the majority of cases. It spreads easily in the cold weather.
Public Health England data, released today, showed there were 4,128 confirmed cases of flu in the week ending January 14.
Some 1,785 people were found to have influenza A, 2,278 were shown to have influenza B and a further 65 were unclassified.
This winter’s outbreak appears to be 16 times more severe than that of 2015/16 – when just 262 cases of flu had been recorded at the same point.
MOTHER’S HEARTACHE AS HER 18-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER DIES FROM FLU
An 18-year-old girl has become the tragic victim of the flu, her heartbroken mother has revealed.
Bethany Walker, from Applecross, died after taking ill at home – initially from flu symptoms which later developed into pneumonia.
Miss Walker was airlifted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness but died later last Friday. Tributes have poured in on social media.
Bethany Walker, from Applecross, died after taking ill at home – initially from flu symptoms which later developed into pneumonia
Her mother Heather Teale wrote on Facebook: ‘My beautiful Daughter Bethany Walker was taken from me yesterday (Jan 5).
‘She had been suffering from a flu virus, which became pneumonia.
‘She was airlifted to Raigmore with me by her side yesterday morning (Jan 5), where she rapidly deteriorated.
‘The staff in Intensive Care could not have done more, she was given the best possible treatment from a team of eight people for over two hours, they tried everything possible but sadly despite their best efforts she didn’t make it.’
She added: ‘I am broken, the bottom has fallen out of my world. I have my mum with me, and my wonderful son Danny Walker who are both feeling the same loss as I am.
Miss Walker was airlifted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness but died later last Friday. Tributes have poured in on social media
‘Life will never be the same again. Bethany, I love you to the moon and back, I always have and I always will, you were the best daughter I could have ever wished for and I will always be the proudest mum in the world.
‘I have no more words. I’m truly devastated. Sleep tight my beautiful girl, your brother and I will love you forever, you will never be out of my thoughts as long as I live.’
Among those paying his respects was TV adventurer Monty Halls, who lived on the Applecross peninsula in 2008 for his Great Escapes series.
He wrote: ‘Heather, I am so, so sorry to hear this news – it is beyond comprehension. Words seem so completely inadequate.
‘Every member of the film crew for Great Escapes remembers her so fondly, a total delight.
‘My deepest condolences to you, and your family. I know the entire team send their best wishes, their thoughts, and their love. Monty xxx’
The Applecross Inn Facebook also paid its own special tribute: ‘Farewell to dear Bethany another fantastic member of our team who we sadly lost last Friday after a short illness, you were the ‘belle of the ball’ at Hogmanay……and indeed everywhere.
‘Such a tragic loss of someone so perfect in every way, so polite, such beauty, humour, fun, music and studies.
‘You were pure pleasure as an employee…..loved by every member of our team, so much devotion and dedication to all you did.’
Miss Walker wanted to study midwifery and was due to head for Aberdeen University later this year.
During that winter, Government figures suggested the winter flu played a role in more than 16,000 deaths. Only 577 were recorded in the previous winter.
However, this winter’s outbreak shows no signs of slowing down, as flu cases are expected to rocket even further in the coming weeks.
CASES OF INFLUENZA
Statistics from Public Health England reveal how many people were infected during week two of the previous four winters.
Similar laboratory figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are released later this week. They are expected to follow similar trends.
A precise toll is unavailable for Wales. Eight have died in intensive care units in Scotland and four in Northern Ireland. A total of 85 have died in England.
The flu outbreak is putting a huge strain on hospitals, with doctors warning the conditions in the NHS are the worst they have ever seen.
Patients are dying in the corridors of overcrowded A&E units because there are not enough beds, leading doctors warned in a letter to the Prime Minister last week.
Health bosses have blamed the rapidly escalating cases of flu for their controversial decision to cancel 55,000 operations last week.
The same move was also made by French officials as the European country battles an epidemic of ‘exceptional magnitude’.
Nearly 12,000 people having been left hospitalised in France and more than 30 dead from the same strains of flu circulating the UK.
The Ministry of Health in France issued an alert about flu last week, warning that the outbreak has still yet to reach its peak.
It read: ‘The influenza epidemic is of an exceptional magnitude, by the number of cases, which risks exceeding those of the last two years.’
Flu is also ‘actively circulating’ in Ireland, with less than ten people having lost their lives to the killer virus so far in this winter’s outbreak.
And in the US, the flu is already gripping 36 states and has killed at least 100 people, according to data released by the CDC.
France has been rocked by an ‘exceptional’ outbreak, with nearly 12,000 people having been left hospitalised (the graphic shows how many people per 100,000 have been infected for each region – any more than 400 is considered an epidemic)
WHERE IS BEING HIT THE WORST?
Currently, Scotland is reporting the highest number of GP consultations for flu in the UK – rising from 46.3 per 100,000 people to 107.2 per 100,000 people.
This is more than double the amount in Northern Ireland (52.6) and almost triple that of Wales (38.9). In contrast, England’s rate is 37.3.
Officials class an outbreak as reaching epidemic levels when flu-like symptoms being reported in GP consultations hit a certain rate.
Each of the home nations has a different level, with England’s being set at 109 cases per 100,000 people. In Scotland it is 419, Northern Ireland 142 and Wales 75.
Between the last week of December, dubbed 51, and the first week of January, dubbed one, England saw a 77 per cent jump in flu symptoms.
Using this percentage, MailOnline predicted that England will reach epidemic levels by week three – before the end of January.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all saw jumps of between 131 and 132 per cent in flu symptoms. These figures were used for their projections.
Scotland and Northern Ireland will hit epidemic levels at the same time as England. Wales will reach its epidemic threshold by next week, if current trends continue.
Australia – whose winter occurs during the British summer – had one of its worst outbreaks on record, with two and a half times the normal number of cases.
Some of the country’s A&E units had ‘standing room only’ after being swamped by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain.
The elderly with their compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible, and a spike in cases among young children has also been shown.
The flu season in the UK and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere tends to mirror what has happened in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.
The same strains of the virus will circulate north in time for the British flu season, which typically begins in November and lasts until March.
Flu viruses are constantly changing proteins on their surface to avoid detection by the body’s immune system – making it more deadly.
This transformation is called an ‘antigenic shift’ if it’s large enough, and can lead to a pandemic. This was responsible for the swine flu outbreak in 2009.
The Aussie flu is transforming quickly, but not fast enough for experts to describe it as a shift. However, it is slowly building up immunity.
WHERE CAN YOU GET THE FLU JAB?
Flu can be a serious illness. If you become very ill with it, it can cause complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle, and kidney failure.
People at most risk of serious illness or death if they get flu are offered the vaccine on the NHS. Ideally you should have this before the end of December, when flu peaks (it takes about two weeks after the jab for antibodies to develop completely).
At-risk groups include anyone aged 65 and over; people living in long-stay residential care homes; carers and pregnant women.
The vaccine is also offered to anyone aged six months to 65 years with certain conditions, such as diabetes.
It is available via your GP’s surgery.
All children aged two to eleven (on August 31, 2017) are also offered the vaccine as a nasal spray. The UK introduced the child vaccination programme in 2013 — last year, the vaccine had 66 per cent effectiveness. Australia does not have a similar programme.
If you don’t qualify to have the jab on the NHS, you can pay to get it at a pharmacy.
Well Pharmacy charges £9 to £14 (depending on the number of strains in the vaccine), Superdrug from £9.99, Lloyds Pharmacy £10, Boots £12.99, and Tesco £9.
Older children who fall outside the NHS scheme can get the nasal spray vaccine from some pharmacies such as Well (£23 for those aged between two and 18; this may involve a second dose at least four weeks later for another £23) and the injection for those 12 and over for £9.
Boots offers the jab to those aged 16 and over at £12.99. Tesco offers it to those 12 and over at £9.