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Flu rates rise again

Cases of flu have risen as people return to work after the Christmas and New Year break, latest figures show.

The figures for England from the RCGP for the first week of 2009 show 51 cases per 100,000, up from 41.3 the previous week but still below the previous high of 68.5 just before Christmas.

The 65-74 age group is showing the highest incidence, with 70.2 cases per 100,000 - up markedly on the previous week. Central region is hit hardest, with the north of England still seeing the lowest levels of flu circulating.

In Scotland, flu levels increased slightly from 73 to 79 per 100,000. Northern Ireland also saw an increase in levels of reported flu and flu-like illness, but incidence in Wales fell.

Despite the increase in incidence of flu reported in England, calls to NHS Direct from people reporting flu-like symptoms fell.

Although incidence of flu and other respiratory illnesses is higher than in recent years, it is still well below 1999/2000 where at the same stage of the year more than 200 cases of flu per 100,000 were being reported.

Separately, question marks have been raised about the availability of anti-virals, which GPs are advised to prescribe to patients in at-risk groups, such as the elderly and people with heart problems, diabetes or lung, liver or renal diseases or those with weakened immune systems.

Dr Andrew Mimnagh, a GP in Waterloo, Merseyside, said: ‘I have seen two people who qualified but on both occasions neither could find a chemist stocking it in Liverpool or able to deliver supplies within the 48 hours from onset limit. The government claim sufficient supplies are available but this is looking far from the case.'

Pulse has also learned that chemists in Scotland have faced shortages of antivirals. The shortage comes after RCGP chair Professor Steve Field assured GPs that the worst of the flu season was over and demand ‘was by no means a crisis'.

Rates of flu have risen again, with some GPs reporting shortages of anti-viral drugs Rates of flu have risen again, with some GPs reporting shortages of anti-viral drugs

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