This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs urged to prescribe antivirals for flu

By Laura Passi

GPs have been urged to consider active antiviral treatment for at-risk groups, after a number of deaths from a resurgent swine flu virus.

The Department of Health says the most recent surveillance data from the Health Protection Agency indicate that there is now a substantial likelihood that people presenting with an flu-like illness are infected with the influenza virus, and that NICE guidance for antivirals should be applied.

Since the beginning of September, eleven deaths associated with influenza infection have been reported in the UK, with ten of them associated with the H1N1 (swine flu) strain, the DH also revealed.

A letter, sent by DH director of immunisation Professor David Salisbury over the weekend, reiterates that the list of groups at clinical risk for seasonal flu and eligible to receive antivirals from GPs has been extended to include pregnant women, due to the presence of the H1N1 virus in general circulation.

A HPA spokesperson said although GP consultation rates remain low, there had been several outbreaks with some severe, hospitalised cases.

‘None of the five fatal cases with information available had received the 2010/11 seasonal influenza, or the 2009 monovalent pandemic influenza vaccine,' added the spokesperson.

A statement from Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP health protection lead, urged GPs to ‘re-enforce the vaccination message' and to consider prevention programmes for those at-risk but who have not been vaccinated.

‘GPs can now prescribe antivirals for all patients with a flu-like illness but should certainly be considering active treatment for patients in high-risk groups. There is also the opportunity to offer prophylaxis to those in the at-risk groups who have not been vaccinated.'