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HPA launches weekly flu report and encourages at risk groups to get vaccinated

The Health Protection Agency’s first weekly flu report for the forthcoming 2012/13 season was published this week and shows current flu activity is low across the UK at the start of the season. Full weekly publications will run until May 2013.

The weekly flu report comprises information from a comprehensive range of surveillance schemes that monitor the levels of flu activity in the UK population:

  • Community surveillance, including numbers of NHS Direct calls
  • Uptake of the flu vaccine programme for at risk groups and health care workers
  • Primary care surveillance, including GP consultations for flu-like illness
  • Secondary care, including hospital and intensive care surveillance
  • Lab-based surveillance, including patient swabs from GPs and hospitals to test for which flu strains are circulating
  • Excess mortality, which can measure the impact of flu on the population

These surveillance systems work to give the health authorities a map of flu activity throughout the season in order to identify any patterns which require specific public health intervention as well as to give early warning to other public health bodies globally.

Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at the HPA, said: "The 2011/2012 flu season was one of the lowest on record – following two years of high flu activity, including the 2009 flu pandemic. This demonstrates how unpredictable the flu season can be.

“Every season we remain vigilant and assess the flu situation on a weekly basis as more information becomes available from our various surveillance systems and from the different virus samples we receive from across the UK.

“For the majority of people, flu is an unpleasant, but not life-threatening illness. But it can be dangerous for certain groups in the population, such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and those who have a weakened immune system, as well as pregnant women. If you are in an at risk group you may already have been or will be invited to receive your flu jab this season by your GP If you haven’t already, the HPA strongly recommends that all those in an at risk group accept the flu vaccination to remain healthy this coming winter.

"As in previous seasons we will produce our weekly flu report which will detail the flu viruses that are circulating together with information on the levels of influenza illness in the population. This helps to inform health professionals. Once flu reaches the level at which it is circulating widely in the general population, it triggers a notification that doctors are advised to use antiviral drugs for the prevention or treatment of flu in patients who are at higher risk of developing complications."

Notes to editors:

  1. For the full weekly flu report please visit http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/SeasonalInfluenza/
  2. For further information about the flu vaccination, including who should have it please visit http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Flu-jab/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  3. For information on why health care workers should receive the flu vaccine please visit http://www.nhsemployers.org/HealthyWorkplaces/SeasonalFluCampaign/Pages/ClinicalEvidence.aspx
  4. For The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013 the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: www.hpa.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk.
  5. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email colindale-pressoffice@hpa.org.uk . Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.

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