A rise in flu cases across England has triggered an alert from the chief medical officer – with increasing numbers of patients admitted to hospital and intensive care.
Public Health England said the number of flu cases confirmed in hospitals in the week to 8 December was 472, up from 330 the week before. There were 124 new admissions to intensive care or high-dependency units for flu, up from 80 the week before.
There were eight deaths in intensive care units in the week to 8 December where flu was a factor – the highest number this season and taking the total death toll for the UK to 15 over a nine-week period.
In an alert to NHS bosses and GPs, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “Surveillance data indicates an increase in influenza cases in the community. Prescribers may now prescribe and pharmacists may now supply antiviral medicines for the prophylaxis and treatment of influenza at NHS expense.”
The flu figures come as hospitals across the country have reported record A&E demand with some declaring major incidents as ambulance trusts reported double-digit growth in 999 calls during the past few days.
According to PHE, the hospitalisation rate from flu is at “moderate intensity levels”, with a rate of 5.06 per 100,000 compared with 4.01 the week before.
Children aged two and three are eligible for the nasal spray flu vaccine via their GP surgery, but the latest figures show only around 30 per cent of two-year-olds have had the vaccine.
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.”