19/01/2018 10:33 GMT | Updated 19/01/2018 10:33 GMT

UK Witnessing Worst Flu Season Since 2011, But Still 'Not An Epidemic'

Hospital admissions are rising fast.

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The UK is in the grips of the ‘most significant flu season’ since 2011, as flu-related hospital admissions continue to rise.

New figures from Public Health England (PHE) reveal that over the last week there has been an 11% increase in the flu hospitalisation rate and a 42% increase in the GP consultation rate for flu-like illnesses compared to the previous week.

So far, 120 people have died from the virus. However PHE insists that, at this stage, the circulating flu is less severe in terms of symptoms and deaths than 2010-2011, which claimed 602 lives in the UK.

The health body said despite the spike in flu cases across the UK, various indicators show the rate of increase is slowing. It also said we are not in the midst of a flu epidemic.

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director for Public Health England said: “Our data continues to show that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospital with flu.

“We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia. The A(H3N2) strain particularly affects older, more vulnerable age groups.

“The best form of protection against flu is to get the vaccine if you are eligible and to practice good respiratory and hand hygiene.”

Symptoms of flu

Flu symptoms often come on quickly with sufferers experiencing a fever, a dry chesty cough, tiredness, the chills, joint pain or aching muscles. Much of the time it will make them too unwell to do anything.

Other symptoms include: diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. 

In addition to Australian flu, strains A(H1N1) and Influenza B are also circulating. A(H1N1) was responsible for the swine flu pandemic in 2009, while Influenza B is a strain which particularly affects children. This year’s standard vaccine protects against one strain of Influenza B (called B/Brisbane/60/2008), however it doesn’t protect against the so-called Japanese flu, which is currently circulating. The quadrivalent vaccine given to high-risk groups will help protect against Japanese flu.

The flu virus can live for many hours on hard surfaces and therefore practising good hand hygiene can limit the spread of germs and transmission of flu.

People are advised to catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, bin it, and then wash their hands afterwards to kill the germs. Practising good hand hygiene and giving eligible people the flu vaccine is the best defence against the virus.

Seasonal flu usually circulates for several weeks each year. The intensity of circulation depends upon the underlying population immunity, the circulating viruses and external factors such as the weather. It is an unpredictable virus and it is not possible to anticipate how flu levels will progress into 2018.