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Flu: is the worst over?

By Lilian Anekwe

Cases of flu and the winter vomiting bug appear to be easing, after a outbreak of the virus put GP and out of hours services under severe pressure over the Christmas and New Year period.

Last week the NHS Alliance reported demand for GP services had risen by an average of 25% in the week leading up to Christmas, and as much as 60% in some areas.

But the latest figures from the RCGP show that cases of the flu appear to be falling – although experts warned they could rise again in the current cold snap.

The latest data from the RCGP's surveillance unit show the number of cases per 100,000 people had fallen in the past week from 68.5 to 41.3, and cases of the common cold also fell from 355.3 to 184.7.

The numbers of cases are still dwarfed by the levels reached during the last serious outbreak of flu in England in 1999-2000, when it reached 233 cases per 100,000 of the population.

A spokesperson for the RCGP said it was now unlikely levels would surpass the nine-year high as originally feared. But Professor Steve Field, RCGP chair, warned that people returning this week to work and school could still easily spread the flu, and the winter vomiting bug, norovirus.

‘GPs are coping and this is by no means a crisis. But I think a lot of people are looking to us because they want a sick note', he said.

‘My prediction is that people are coming back to work or school and they are circulating influenza and transferring it to each other. We think cases of flu and norovirus will go up again.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘There is always more demand on health services in winter and during the cold and flu season and this year is no exception. The NHS is well prepared and it is coping.'

Flu virus: this year's problems may be starting to wane Flu virus: impact may be starting to wane

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