Flu cases last winter hit all-time low
Thursday, 21 June 2012
GPs had the lowest ever number of flu consultations last winter, the Health Protection Agency has reported. The peak rate of cases of influenza-like illness was the lowest since records began in 1966 – but the HPA has cautioned against complacency, and told GPs and at-risk patients they must continue to get vaccinated each year.
The HPA’s National Influenza Report, published this morning, showed that the peak rate of GP consultations for flu-like illness did not even cross the baseline threshold of 30 cases per 100,000 population – compared with a peak of 130 cases per 100,000 in winter 2010-11. The peak also occurred exceptionally later than usual this year, not until mid-February.
Swine flu was no longer the dominant strain, as it was overtaken by influenza A H3N2.
Despite the drop in flu cases, the number of outbreaks of respiratory illness resulting from influenza was higher than it was the previous year, accounted for mostly by elderly care homes; several deaths ensued. UK-wide there were 227 admissions to intensive care units for laboratory-confirmed flu, and 20 deaths.
The HPA is concerned that vaccination rates are still too low, and in some groups are declining. Only about a quarter of healthy pregnant women, about half of at-risk pregnant women and at-risk under-65s, and three-quarters of people 65 and over had their seasonal flu jab.
Dr Richard Pebody, head of the HPA’s influenza surveillance section, said: “Despite the low level of activity overall, a significant numbers of influenza outbreaks in elderly care home settings were reported this year.
“Although we had low overall levels of flu seen last winter we must continue to reinforce the message that flu is a serious illness in people at risk of complications and vaccination ahead of the flu season is the best way to minimise the risk of serious illness or death.”
Although the proportion of frontline health workers getting vaccinated rose from 35% to 45% this year, the HPA says this is still too low, and could put patients’ health at risk.
Dr Pebody said: “Healthcare professionals – particularly GPs and midwives – have an important role to play in encouraging those at risk to take up the offer of vaccination, as well as setting a good example by taking up the offer of vaccination themselves to reduce the likelihood of infecting their patients.”