Feature Briefing

Influenza: questions and answers

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d190 (Published 12 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d190
  1. Adrian O’Dowd, freelance journalist, Margate
  1. adrianodowd{at}hotmail.com

As the UK deals with the heaviest winter flu surge since 1999 and the government has allowed use of leftover 2009 pandemic vaccines, Adrian O’Dowd pulls together the latest information on flu

What is the mix of viruses this year?

The influenza viruses around this year are 2009 H1N1, influenza B, and some sporadic H3N2.

How many deaths, ITU admissions, and cases have there been so far?

Between 5 September (week 36) 2010 and 6 January (week 1) 2011, 50 deaths associated with influenza infection have been reported across the UK. Most of those who died had not been immunised.

Of the 50, 45 people died with H1N1 and five with the flu type B strain.

The deaths have been mainly in younger adults and children with five individuals less than 5 years of age; eight from 5 to 14 years; 33 from 15 to 64 years, and four older than 64 years.

It is important to put this into perspective. A normal seasonal flu kills around 5000 people in the UK, although in 1999-2000 there were 19 000 deaths related to flu. This winter has seen the highest spike in cases since 1999-2000.

According to the Health Protection Agency, the number of people with confirmed or suspected flu in England in critical care beds increased to 783 in the week ending 6 January, up from 738 the previous week.

The equivalent figures were 38 people in Scotland and 71 in Wales.

The Royal College of General Practitioners’ latest update for the week ending 2 January said the overall consultation rate for influenza-like illness in England and Wales had dropped from 124.4 per 100 000 patients in the previous week to 98.4 per 100 000.

Nationally, the Health Protection Agency said across the UK in week 52 (ending 26 December), the weekly consultation rates for influenza and influenza-like illness decreased in England (98.4 per 100 000 patients) and Scotland (52.0 per 100 000), were stable …

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