Hundreds of thousands could be affected by influenza over Christmas if levels rise as expected in late December and early January, NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) have said.
The latest surveillance data from PHE shows that GP consultations for Influenza-like Illness have risen by 24% from week 48 to week 49, while the impact of flu on hospitals was at moderate levels.
‘Whether it’s missing out on your Christmas dinner, the Boxing Day match or a New Year’s party, nobody wants to be laid low by flu while the festivities are in full swing,’ said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director.
‘It’s good to see that more people over the age of 65 have already got their jab. For older people and those with underlying health conditions, getting flu is particularly bad news because it can lead to really serious conditions like pneumonia and bronchitis, which can mean a lengthy stay in hospital. And we know that children are ‘super spreaders’ of flu, particularly around the holiday season when they’re more likely to see elderly relatives. So our message is simple: the flu season is here, get your jab now. It might be the difference between a Christmas to remember, and one to forget.’
Due to delays in vaccine delivery from the manufacturer, vaccine uptake among 2-3 year olds is lagging behind previous seasons; as of the end of week 8 December, 28% of 2-3 year olds had received the vaccine. Additionally, some schools programmes will not take place until very early January, so PHE is also advising parents of at-risk children who missed their school session or in situations where the school programme is due in January, not to wait, and to contact their GP to arrange an appointment.
‘No one wants to see their children suffering with flu – far from a common cold, flu can have serious consequences for young children and those with underlying medical conditions,’ said Professor Yvonne Doyle, PHE Medical Director. ‘There’s still a week before Christmas, parents of 2-3 year olds or those with underlying medical conditions should not delay, get your children vaccinated as soon as possible. To reduce the risk of spreading flu, use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often with warm water and soap, and bin used tissues as quickly as possible. Catch it. Bin it. Kill it.’