The levels of seasonal flu have continued to increase across the UK with two main strains of flu circulating. They are Influenza A H1N1 (2009) - ‘swine flu’ - and Influenza B, with the former, the H1N1, being the predominant strain. As schools have re-opened and people return to work, the number of flu victims is likely to increase even more, leading to more deaths and hospitalisations - will this push the crisis to an epidemic?
Figures released by the Health Protection agency on the 6 January 2011 showed that 50 people have died from the flu virus. Of these 50 fatalities, 45 were from swine flu and 5 from influenza type B. Children and young adults have been mostly hit by the flu: 5 cases were children under 5 years old, 8 cases were children aged 8 to 14 years, 33 cases were people aged between 15 and 64 and 4 cases were from people aged 65 and over. This rise in flu cases came as surgeries all across the UK reported a shortage of flu vaccine.
The Royal College of General Practitioners reported that incidences of flu has risen to 124 per 100,000 cases in England and Wales during the week ending 26 December 2010; in the previous week it had been 87.1 per 100,000.
The general increase has been across all age groups apart from children with the middle-aged being badly hit. Scotland has a rate of 55.8 cases per 100,000. Northern Ireland has been the worst hit with a rate of infection with 132 cases per 100,000; this might have been influenced by the water crisis it has been experiencing, as it might be difficult to maintain proper hygiene standards without running water. The WHO weekly influenza bulletin revealed that since the flu season began in October 2010, the rate of influenza-like illnesses has been low across continental Europe but has risen dramatically in Britain.
According to the Department of Health, the number of people in intensive care has risen to 738 including 42 children under 5 years old on the 31 December 2010. This was 60% up on the figure for the previous week, which was 460 – a dramatic rise. Out of the 738 people in intensive care, at least 17 patients required life support because their hearts and lungs have failed.
The Government has not run an information campaign to tell the public to take the necessary precautions to protect them from swine flu, and has taken no steps to increase awareness among higher risk-groups to come forward for vaccination (4). Fewer than half of all those under 65 who are at risk groups and just over two-thirds of those over 65 have been vaccinated. Healthy pregnant women have been included for the first this autumn and children under the age of 5 have been excluded from the programme.
Vaccination might in any case be too late: the outbreak is expected to peak within the next two weeks, and the jab takes one week to produce partial immunity and two to three weeks to provide maximum protection.