Although influenza has remained rife, the rate at which it spread has levelled off in the past week, the latest data have revealed.
Public Health England and RCGP weekly statistics showed 1,000 more patients presenting to general practice with flu-like illness between 15-21 January compared with the week before.
This meant a total of more than 31,500 during the third week of 2018, with rates per 100,000 patients rising from 53.1 to 54.1.
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland rates ‘decreased slightly or remained similar with all countries being above their respective baseline thresholds’ last week, PHE’s report said.
Professor Simon de Lusignan, medical director for the RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre, said: ‘Today’s figures show that rates of influenza-like illness presentations in general practice have flattened off, but they do remain above what we term the “medium’” threshold overall, and rates in over 65-year-old patients remain above the “very high” threshold.
‘We’re certainly not out of the woods yet this flu season as the influenza virus is incredibly unpredictable. It is quite possible that rates will rise again, although they may continue to level out or even decline.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Whilst influenza rates have levelled out for now, this means that there are still huge numbers of patients being seen in general practice with flu and other common winter conditions – and GPs and our teams are certainly feeling the pressure…
‘We continue to urge patients who are ill to think hard about whether they do need to see a GP – not just in terms of reducing pressures on the NHS, but to minimise the possibility of passing viruses, such as flu, to others.’
PHE and RCGP data also showed:
- In emergency departments across England, attendances for respiratory and acute respiratory infections continued to decrease.
- As for admissions, 205 new patients were admitted to intensive care units with confirmed influenza (0.48 per 100,000), alongside 758 other hospitalisations (7.76 per 100,000). This was a decrease on the previous week when rates stood at 0.56 per 100,000 and 8.86 per 100,000 respectively.
- Presentations of acute bronchitis, common cold and respiratory system diseases in general practice also remained largely unchanged last week.
- Presentations of asthma meanwhile increased slightly from 17.7 per 100,000 population to 20.8 per 100,000 population.
This comes as the results of a Pulse survey, published today, revealed that a third of GP practices have run out of flu vaccines or are running low.
GPs were last week asked by NHS England to use their remaining flu jabs to immunise all eligible patients within the next two weeks.
And in Wales the BMA has agreed a flu outbreak DES with the Government in the wake of the growing number of flu cases.