Regular readers of this blog may recall a comment left by a UK physician nearly 10 days ago, that described the number of flu cases his West Midlands practice was seeing as `taking off like a rocket’.
At the time, the HPA was reporting 13.3 flu-related consults per 100,000 (well below the baseline).
Weekly surveillance numbers almost always lag behind current conditions by a week or two. So after this field report from Chacal, it came as little surprise that the next set of numbers from the HPA had more than doubled.
Today, we are hearing that the number of ILI consults in England has nearly tripled again – to 87 per 100,000 ( a six-fold increase in 3 weeks).
And that number, again, likely lags behind reality.
With more than 300 people reportedly in intensive care, and more flu patients than can be quickly seen by NHS doctors, the National Health Service has decided to authorize expanded use of oseltamivir (Tamiflu), and to re-open the National Influenza hotlines.
A round up of a few of today’s flu related stories from the UK, and then I’ll be back with some closing thoughts.
More than a million calls a week are expected to flood the new swine flu telephone helpline set up the Government, it has been estimated.
11:42AM BST 23 Jul 2009
The Government's National Flu Pandemic Service for England will be staffed by more than 1,500 call centre staff, with the option of recruiting 500 more.
The NHS Direct is struggling to cope as the number of people using the helpline dramatically increases due to freezing weather and the flu outbreak, it has been claimed
By Andrew Hough, and Rebecca Smith 6:30AM GMT 23 Dec 2010
23 December 2010 Last updated at 06:31 ET
At risk patients are being urged to get to get a flu jab as soon as possible
While the kind of influenza season we will see is all but impossible to predict, the return of the H1N1 virus is hardly unexpected.
As I wrote in The Pandemic Is Ended (But The Malady Lingers On, the H1N1 virus appears to be essentially unchanged from last year, and so it is to be expected that once again it would disproportionately affect those under the age of 65.
The declaration of the pandemic’s end last August simply indicated that - due to growing levels of immunity around the world - the wildfire-like spread of the virus was likely over, and that it would likely spread more like a seasonal flu virus in the future.
Which is exactly what we are seeing in the UK, albeit like a severe flu season. And those happen, even in non-pandemic years.
The flu will likely peak in a few weeks in the UK (although a second wave is always possible), and other areas of the world may see similar sharp rises in influenza activity over the coming months.
But exactly where, or when, is impossible to know.
Which is why the best option is to get that flu shot now, while you still have time to build antibodies against the three strains of influenza widely circulating around the world.