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UK: Seasonal Flu

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    Posted: December 05 2019 at 3:23am
It's flu season already! Hospital admissions double in a week as winter virus arrives early

Eighty per cent of nursery and primary school pupils have not had their flu jabs
Hospitalisation is now at ‘moderate intensity’ with 2.8 admissions per 100,000
NHS is in 'unusually bad shape’ says think tank while NHS Provider disagrees

Flu has arrived early this year with hospital admissions doubling in a week.

Health officials confirmed the virus was starting to circulate, with rates particularly high in the north of England.

Thousands of vulnerable patients have not yet been vaccinated including 80 per cent of nursery children and primary school pupils.

Many GP surgeries and pharmacies have only just received deliveries of the children’s nasal spray inoculations following a supply glitch with the manufacturers. Health experts are worried that the early arrival of the flu season is a sign that it will be severe and protracted, causing chaos for the NHS.

Rates of the winter vomiting bug norovirus are also at their highest in five years and two schools in Leicester and Liverpool have been forced to close.

The NHS is already under severe pressure and the most recent figures on A&E waiting times and bed occupancy rates are the worst on record.

The latest weekly data from Public Health England show the hospitalisation rate from flu is already at ‘moderate intensity’ – 2.8 admissions per 100,000.

This is twice as high as the previous week and ten times higher than this time last year. Yet just 21.1 per cent of two-year-olds and 20.4 per cent of three-year-olds have so far received their nasal spray vaccine. The figures are even lower for primary school pupils and just 17.6 per cent in Year 1 have been immunised alongside 15.2 per cent of those in Year 6.

The low uptake is largely due to a temporary supply problem with AstraZeneca, the nasal spray’s manufacturer.

Although these issues have since been resolved and stocks are being delivered to GP surgeries and pharmacies, the huge numbers of unvaccinated youngsters is a cause for concern.

Children are known as ‘super-spreaders’ because they tend to catch flu at school or nursery and pass it on to pregnant mothers or grandparents. A PHE spokesman stressed that the early arrival of the flu season would not necessarily have a bearing on its duration or intensity.

But one NHS source told the Mail the virus had arrived significantly earlier than last year and was apparently more severe.

One clinician told the Health Service Journal that flu had come earlier than in 2017/18, itself the worst outbreak in eight years.

Miriam Deakin of NHS Providers, which represents hospital, ambulance and community trusts, said: ‘If it is the case that we are already beginning to see high levels of flu in parts of the country, this is a worrying sign that the predictions of a difficult winter may already be a reality.

‘The health and care system is already under severe demand pressure for services, and patients coming into hospital are requiring more complex levels of care. Alongside high levels of staff vacancies, an outbreak of flu or norovirus could have a serious effect on the delivery of services.

‘Trusts have prepared extensively for winter and will continue to work together to encourage as many staff as possible to take up vaccinations.'

Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, head of flu at PHE, said: ‘Flu is now circulating and is starting to increase in the community, particularly in the north of England.

‘Current evidence suggests that the main circulating strain of flu is well matched to this year’s vaccine - if you are eligible, get your vaccine from GP or pharmacist to ensure you are protected.’

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst in the policy team at the Kings Fund think-tank, pointed out that the NHS was heading toward winter ‘in unusually bad shape’.

He pointed out that NHS staff were concerned that the UK would follow Australia – often seen as a bellwether for the illness – which had a particularly severe flu season.

He added: ‘Flu outbreaks create pressure on all parts of the NHS during winter – creating greater demand for telephone advice, GP consultations and admissions to intensive care units in hospital.

‘Last year the United Kingdom was relatively lucky to see only low to moderate levels of flu, and flu activity has remained below baseline levels so far this winter,

'Most clinicians I speak to are anxious about the prospects of the punishing early and severe flu season in Australia being mirrored in the United Kingdom and putting further strain on services that are already thinly stretched.’

Separate PHE figures show that norovirus activity in the community as confirmed by lab reports is 35 per cent higher than the five-year average. The next weekly flu and norovirus statistics are due out today and are expected to show a further rise in the number of cases.

While flu vaccination isn’t compulsory, this year’s numbers are significantly lower than in previous years.

By this time last winter more than a third of two and three-year-olds had received the nasal spray alongside a fifth of eligible primary pupils.

Vaccination rates normally go up as winter progresses and more families become worried about contracting flu.

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FLU ALERT UK flu hotspots revealed as health bosses warn virus has hit early putting thousands of kids at risk

Gemma Mullin, Digital Health Reporter

6 Dec 2019, 12:18Updated: 6 Dec 2019, 14:26

Cumbria, Essex and Kent have reported the most influenza cases, as well as parts of Lanarkshire, according to Flusurvey.

It relies on patients self-reporting so the true figure in each region is likely to be far higher.

The latest NHS data shows hospital admissions for flu have tripled in a fortnight and have reached at “moderate intensity” - with 4.3 admissions per 100,000.

That number is up from a rate of 1.4 two weeks earlier.

It comes as officials have admitted flu jab delays have left thousands of young kids at risk.

Production problems resulted in widespread shortages of the nasal-spray vaccine, which is given to toddlers and schoolchildren.
Get kids vaccinated now

Public Health England says stocks are now available and are urging parents to get their kids inoculated.

But figures show uptake is down 32 per cent compared to last year, with only a quarter of young children covered.

Health bosses also warned that flu has arrived early, with cases already beginning to spike.

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.

    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
    Dr Jamie Lopez BernalHead of Flu at PHE

“Vaccination uptake in toddlers is lower than we would hope for at this point in the year due to previous delays in delivery of the vaccine, which are now resolved.

“If you have children aged two to three go to your GP to get them vaccinated now.”

Parents of children in high-risk groups, such as those with asthma or diabetes, are still being advised to contact their GP to be seen sooner.

Children who are aged two and three are eligible for the flu vaccine nasal spray via their GP surgery.

People aged 65 and over, children and adults with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women are urged to get their free vaccine in the next few weeks before the flu season peaks, typically in January.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: "The flu vaccine is the best defence we have against what can be a serious and fatal illness, and flu season is just around the corner.

"If you are in an eligible group, visit your GP or pharmacist as soon possible to ensure you are protected."

    The flu vaccine is the best defence we have against what can be a serious and fatal illness
    Dr Mary RamsayPublic Health England

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said: "Flu can be extremely serious and even kill in some cases, and getting vaccinated is the best protection against it.

"NHS services across England continue to work hard to prepare for the winter season, including staff getting their free flu jab, and now we're appealing to the public to 'Help Us, Help You' by ensuring that they and their eligible children or relatives get vaccinated, now."

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Influenza can be a very unpleasant illness, and while it is not generally a serious illness for most people, for those in at-risk groups, such as young children, elderly people, those with long-term conditions and pregnant women, flu has the potential to trigger life-threatening complications.

"The best defence against the flu is to be vaccinated and we strongly urge all patients in at-risk groups to get vaccinated and for parents to ensure their young children receive their vaccine as soon as possible."

At-risk groups eligible for the flu vaccine include people with a chronic neurological disease; respiratory, heart, kidney or liver disease; diabetes and the over-65s.

Pregnant women have a much higher risk of serious illness if they get the flu, with possible complications including pneumonia, septic shock and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Clare Livingstone, professional policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: "The RCM recommends that pregnant women have the flu vaccination.

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