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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Flu season officially underway

By Steve Nowottny

Flu levels have now risen high enough to trigger the use of antiviral drugs for at-risk groups, the Health Protection Agency has announced.

The proportion of calls to NHS Direct about colds and flu has hit 1.2, the threshold for exceeding baseline levels, while the HPA said they had been 23 reported outbreaks of influenza-like illness in settings such as hospitals, schools and care homes as of 10 December.

The Department of Health has now advised GPs to consider prescribing antiviral drugs where necessary in line with NICE guidance.

Dr Richard Pebody, a flu expert from the Health Protection Agency, said: ‘Sinc early December seasonal flu activity has started to increase to the normal levels seen most winters.'

‘Doctors in England have now been advised that the use of antiviral drugs for the prevention or treatment of flu in patients who are at higher risk of developing complications from the infection is now recommended.'

‘For most people, flu is miserable, lasting a week or so, but not life-threatening. For those in at-risk groups, however, such as the elderly and patients with heart problems, diabetes or lung, liver or renal disease, or those who have weak immune systems, it can be far more dangerous and can lead to more serious illnesses.'

According to the latest RCGP data on consultation rates, the overall incidence of flu-like illness remains just below the baseline activity threshold at 27.6 cases per 100,000. However the baseline is exceeded in central England, with 37.5 cases per 100,000, and among 15-44 year-olds, with 32.1 cases per 100,000.

Dr John Watkins, senior lecturer in primary care and public health at Cardiff University, said: ‘Influenza is now confirmed to be circulating in the UK, and is at higher levels in central England than elsewhere. Influenza can be a serious illness and should not be underestimated.'

‘However it is not too late for people considered ‘at risk' to protect themselves. Those at risk can still be vaccinated and can receive effective treatments on the NHS.'

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