Latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) indicate that flu is now circulating in the community. Increases have been seen in both children and adults across a range of indicators, including GP consultations.
Following PHE advice, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has this week issued guidance to all GPs on the use of antiviral drugs for the management of people presenting with flu-like illness in England, who are at higher risk of developing complications. Although flu is starting to circulate, flu levels currently remain relatively low.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “The NHS is well prepared for the flu season, and although flu levels remain relatively low, we are starting to see increases.
“Prevention is better than cure, and the increase in flu activity means it is even more important to get your flu jab if you are in an at-risk group. If you have not already had it, call your GP as soon as possible. I am very grateful to GPs for the work they are already doing to vaccinate people, and I know they will continue to strive for higher uptake.”
Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at PHE, said: “We are starting to see increases in flu activity in both children and adults, indicating the start of this year’s flu season.
“People in ‘at risk’ groups can get the vaccine for free as they are at much greater risk of becoming seriously unwell if they catch flu, and sadly many end up in hospital. This includes people with health conditions, even those that are well managed, such as asthma, diabetes, heart, lung, liver or renal diseases, those with weakened immune systems, as well as older people and pregnant women.”
The latest vaccine uptake figures show some positive signs with 70.6% of people aged 65 and over vaccinated. However, only 47.1% in those aged under 65 with a health condition have been vaccinated and 41.6% of pregnant women. In addition, 34.8% of all 2-year-olds, 37.3% of all 3-year-olds and 29.3 % of all 4-year-olds have been vaccinated with the nasal spray vaccine as part of the childhood flu immunisation programme. PHE also encourages healthcare workers and carers who could pass the infection to vulnerable people to also get vaccinated.
Dr Pebody, added: “Although unpleasant, for most healthy people, flu is a self-limiting illness. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, cough as well as sore throat, aching muscles and joints. The best advice for treating flu in healthy people is to stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and take pain relievers such as paracetamol. Children under 16 should not take any medicines containing aspirin. People in at-risk groups who develop symptoms consistent with flu, or if anyone’s symptoms persist or become more severe, they should seek medical advice.
“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 are important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of transmission.
“Every season we remain vigilant and assess the flu situation as more information becomes available from our various surveillance systems, and from the different virus samples we receive from across the UK.”