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Flu on decline in UK but rising elsewhere in Europe

Fergus Walsh | 17:25 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

When has a flu outbreak peaked? You can only know this retrospectively, but it does seem that the worst of this winter's outbreak is behind us.

Figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show GP consultations fell in England and Northern Ireland over the past week, with only a slight rise in Scotland.

The HPA also said the predominant strain in circulation is now influenza B, which has overtaken influenza H1N1 swine flu. Flu B tends to be milder than H1N1 (although it has caused some fatalities) and mostly affects children.

The number of people reported to have died from flu since October has risen to 338, up by 84 since last week. The HPA said: "The vast majority of the new deaths reported today did not occur in the past week - a substantial number will have occurred over the past six weeks, but due the verification process they have only been confirmed this week."

Of the 306 deaths for which there is information on age, 10 were under five, 14 were aged 5-14, 217 aged 15-64 and 65 were older than 64.

The HPA said where information is available on the fatal cases, 184 out of 252 (73%) were in a clinical 'at risk' group for vaccination. 82 out of 108 (76%) had not received their jab this season.

In the past week, the number of number of GP consultations in England has fallen to 40.7 per 100,000, down from 66.5 per 100,000 the previous week.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: "Our latest flu report suggests levels of flu are continuing to decline across the UK and we appear to be over the peak of activity.

"However flu is still circulating and it is important that people remember to practice good cough and hand hygiene such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, and then disposing of these as soon as possible to stop it spreading in the community."

But although flu may be on the decline in the UK, rates are rising elsewhere in Europe. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said flu is progressing from west to east across the continent, as in previous years.

Rates are increasing in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece and Hungary. Professor Angus Nicoll, a flu expert at the ECDC said: "Countries should be looking at the experience of the UK and prepare for a surge of patients requiring higher level care." The ECDC said immunisation could prevent many fatalities. It has a useful one-stop shop giving information on flu and flu rates.

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  • 1. At 6:45pm on 27 Jan 2011, Questionsaplenty2 wrote:

    Thank you Fergus for the update. One more figure to state is that the number of beds in use has dropped to 247 from 418 last week.

    http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/MediaCentre/Pressreleases/DH_123873

    The total number of deaths, although most occured in previous weeks, is climbing and I do wonder whether it will reach a similar figure to the first wave before we are done.

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  • 2. At 7:32pm on 27 Jan 2011, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    What interests me at the moment is whether swine flu is going to be a dominant strain for a few years to come or if this is likely to be its last big appearance.

    If its sticking around I hope that there will be better access to flu vaccination than has been the case this year.

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  • 3. At 9:33pm on 27 Jan 2011, sussexjools wrote:

    It's encouraging to see that the worst may be over... although having been a paranoid surfer of any info I could find over the last few months in the hope I could protect my child from flu, she's now lying on the sofa with a high temp aches, sore throat, headache, runny nose. So much for comforting statistics of declining rates! I can only hope that whatever it is turns out to be mild, short in duration and that she has good immunity for life. Wish I could find out if it is piggy flu though but I guess no one will be able to say for sure, espec now there's other strains around, Angels, I agree that it would be good to think that we might have more choice in future years on whether to get our families vaccinated.

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  • 4. At 10:17pm on 27 Jan 2011, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    Sussexjools, hope your little girl gets better soon. It's horrible when they get poorly, isn't it? My children had something very nasty over Christmas but they got better fairly quickly and I think they are stronger for it in the long run. And I got pneumonia without even having flu at all! These things happen, no matter how hard we try to protect our loved ones and ourselves.

    Wishing you and yours well.xx

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  • 5. At 05:26am on 29 Jan 2011, arussell wrote:

    Please Fergus or anyone else I have a simple question if someone knows the answer?
    During pandemic flu outbreaks (such as with H1N1) it is normally the pattern that the at risk group is the group between 18-40, because the inflammation which is caused within the lung is the result of an overactive immune response against the virus, not the virus itself. Thus people with healthier immune systems were always thought to be at a higher risk. I do not understand why this has not been previously discussed in these articles because it was widely taught in public health courses. It was always seen as a rudimentary way to compare seasonal Flu outbreaks to Pandemic flu outbreaks, because seasonal flu has a much higher mortality rate in children and the elderly (the pattern is what is normally referred to when speaking of the Flu in the UK - however this is just true of seasonal Flu not of Pandemic Flu). Please let me know your thoughts as I am slightly confused over this significant but simple mistake.

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  • 6. At 05:48am on 29 Jan 2011, arussell wrote:

    I just thought I may write a couple of links down if people wanted to read up a little on the reason as my above comments are oversimplified. Here are three not amazing but ok for a description. Additionally many of the treatment protocols for H1N1 does involve the use of corticosteroids in addition to antivirals and antibiotics in the US.

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/ops/hsc-scen-3_pandemic-1918.htm

    http://www.cytokinestorm.com/

    http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2009/04/swine_flu_and_deaths_in_health.php

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  • 7. At 10:39pm on 30 Jan 2011, Nada wrote:

    Dear Mr. Walsh I read this article "Foam Puzzle Mat Immedate Removal In France Due to Toxic Formamide"? Do you have any information about this issue?

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  • 8. At 12:18pm on 02 Feb 2011, joannabeaglebyrne wrote:

    Thank you for your sensible approach to the whole swine flu drama.
    As a mother of 3 it can be very worrying when we are being told
    constantly by the media of every minute detail some times things that
    we probably don't even need to know. I always checked for your point of view when things were being dramatised excessively by other media outlets.
    Well done fergus.

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  • 9. At 5:39pm on 02 Feb 2011, Questionsaplenty2 wrote:

    Welsh results from GPs are, as usual, out a day early. Bit of a shock to see they have not really declined any further this week. I am wondering whether this is due to the Influenza B becoming the prevalent flu now instead of H1N1. I guess we will see further information tomorrow as to whether the rest of the UK is exhibiting the same trend.

    http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/page.cfm?orgid=457&pid=34338

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  • 10. At 5:51pm on 02 Feb 2011, Questionsaplenty2 wrote:

    Just looking at the more detailed data, it would appear the plateau isn't due to the type B influenza virus taking over as those in the 65+ and 75+ categories show strong declines in cases this week. The 5-14 yr olds also show a good decline but the 25-34 and 45-64 show reasonable increases in numbers of cases.

    I'm wondering what the reason for this might be?

    Detailed report for Wales: http://www2.nphs.wales.nhs.uk:8080/CommunitySurveillanceDocs.nsf/3dc04669c9e1eaa880257062003b246b/651e67235615d50b8025782b0057eb35/$FILE/PHW%20Influenza%20Surveillance%20Report%20for%202011%20week%2004.pdf

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  • 11. At 8:35pm on 02 Feb 2011, SkylineOnFire wrote:

    Why would it drop further? It's already below the baseline, and theoretically it should still be much higher, as we are still in flu season.

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  • 12. At 9:04pm on 02 Feb 2011, Questionsaplenty2 wrote:

    hi skyline

    If you look at the graph on that link, you'll see what I mean...in previous years it has dropped a lot lower than that after a flu wave...the baseline is actually quite a bit higher than is normal for this week in the year even after similar flu months in previous years

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  • 13. At 00:17am on 03 Feb 2011, SkylineOnFire wrote:

    You have to remember it's no exact science. And since we are still in the midst of a flu season, even if it's currently waning, there will be ups, downs, and general fluctuations for weeks to come. Not to mention, the statistics aren't so accurate that you can truly work out the trend perfectly, they are for getting a general picture of the situation, rather than exact figures.

    There's nothing to worry about :)

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  • 14. At 02:19am on 03 Feb 2011, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    Hi, Skyline, do you think swine flu will be around next winter too? Or are we done and dusted now?

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  • 15. At 2:29pm on 03 Feb 2011, sussexjools wrote:

    Good news everyone... flu levels down significantly on report posted a week ago. Angels... thank you. It turned out to be tonsilitis, but how someone is supposed to know in the first day or two what a patient has, beats me, when the symptoms are identical. Back at school moaning but mostly recovered now! I think the medics' expectation is that H1N1 is going to be one of the most prevalent flu viruses in circulation each winter season for a few years yet so it is likely to continue to be included in the seasonal trivalent vaccine for a while. Certainly I have read this is the case that it will be in the southern hemisphere for their winter coming up.

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  • 16. At 10:07am on 04 Feb 2011, Mike wrote:

    Bad news everyone - the risk of dieing from presciption drugs is much higher.

    Let's not forget dieing in a train crash too, so the mass hysteria (created by the media), is in fact, not over.

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  • 17. At 09:52am on 06 Feb 2011, Flumonitor wrote:

    Angel, H1N1 aka swine flu is very unlikely to go away; it (or its descendants) will be with us for years to come.

    We can expect it to be around and causing problems next official season i.e anytime from September 2011 onwards. As to how many years it will be before it acquires true 'seasonal' flu characteristics, I dont think anyone can say. Most pandemic viruses cause significant problems for some years, with the first three being the worst years.

    Hopefully the authorities will sort out their flu and vaccination strategies swiftly, and ensure that it is possible for everyone to recieve vaccines if they want them in the UK, either on the NHS or privately. Production decisions start in March/April so they dont have long to make their minds up.

    Also bear in mind that many other countries are now going through a significant H1N1 epidemic at the moment and some are also suffering from vaccine shortage problems - and manufacturing capacity is limited.

    In my view re-introduction of a national stockpile or reserve would be sensible. Next season could be better or worse than the one we have just had - not even the experts can predict this, although what happens in the southern hemisphere in the summer is usually considered a good predictor (but isn't always).

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  • 18. At 2:12pm on 07 Feb 2011, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    Hi, everyone,

    Sussexjools, tonsillitis is grim - twice now one of my girls has been treated for suspected meningitis when in fact it has been tonsillitis - the temp, headache etc can come for a day or so before the tonsils show the infection. Hope your little girl is better now.

    Flumonitor, thank you for such a comprehensive answer. Having lost a month already to pneumonia I will make sure I get a flu jab again next year and do everything in my power to get jabs for the children, too - hopefully there will be a way to get them vaccinated privately. I am staggered at how little I can do and how long my recovery is taking - luckily our household income is not reliant on the little I earn and my husband has been able to take time off work to look after the kids or we'd really be in trouble.

    One thing that puzzles me is why we struggled so much given the comparatively low death rate. Was it that so many people got sick in a very short space of time? Is H1N1 shifting enough for people to get infected more than once or did it just get different people this time? Is it that a significantly higher number of people get very poorly than with seasonal flu?

    If the experience of flu in the southern hemisphere is a good indicator of what will happen here then I hope that someone will tell the practice nurse at our local surgery so that she knows, I was a bit surprised when I knew that sf was back down under and she didn't.

    Mike, I think it was Deepak Chopra who said that life is a terminal, sexually transmitted disease. ;)

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  • 19. At 3:55pm on 07 Feb 2011, Mike wrote:

    Angel:-
    I tend not to listen to other people & so called medical experts, drug companies and their views - which are motivated by other reasons including greed: I listen to nature instead: Eat naturally, train naturally, no chemicals, no un-tested vaccines, no prescrition drugs, no two-step healing methods. I've never had flu, never will and I've not had a cold for over 10 years. If I ever feel that I'm about to come down with something I mentally tell it to P off - works everytime.

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  • 20. At 5:32pm on 07 Feb 2011, Questionsaplenty2 wrote:

    Some information reported by Sky news today re the Universal Flu Vaccine

    http://news.sky.com/skynews/Article/201009115925252

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