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Respiratory admissions still on increase

Admissions to hospital caused by respiratory illnesses are rising, despite increasing uptake of flu vaccine in recent years, research shows.

The study comes a week after a Health Protection Agency study questioned the effect of the annual flu vaccination campaign on hospital admissions, saying the benefits were ‘likely to be overestimated'.

The new analysis by experts at the RCGP's Birmingham research unit examined clinical and virological data for winters 1994/5 to 2003/4.

It showed mortality and hospital admissions for influenza-like illness had declined in recent years, but admissions for acute bronchitis – probably due to respiratory syncytial virus – were placing a ‘considerable winter pressure on health services'.

It also found admissions and deaths from flu did not increase ‘to any appreciable extent' during periods of exclusive influenza activity.

This, the researchers argued, could be because of increasing vaccine uptake or decreasing virulence of the flu virus.

Dr Doug Fleming, who presented the research at a conference in Toronto, Canada, said flu was not the most significant contributor to winter admissions and deaths – but an annual campaign was still necessary.

‘While our research points to other respiratory viruses, and RSV in particular, as more significant in respiratory admissions in the last five years, it would be foolish to reduce our target of 70% vaccination in the elderly.'

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