More winter health misery as the flu season kicks off

More winter health misery as the flu season kicks off, with schoolchildren worst affected
Cases highest in children aged five to 14, says Health Protection AgencyNorth East England appears to be worst affected area of the country Doctors given the green light to prescribe antivirals to those who need themThose in at-risk groups yet to be vaccinated are urged to have flu jab

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UPDATED:

10:07 GMT, 21 December 2012

The winter flu season has kicked off, parents have been warned, after an increase in the number of school children falling ill with the infection

The winter flu season has kicked off, parents have been warned, after an increase in the number of school children falling ill with the infection

The flu season has begun, parents have been warned, after an increase in the number of children aged five to 14 falling ill.

Doctors were yesterday given the green light to prescribe antiviral medication to those who need it and people most at risk of the infection were urged to have a flu jab.

Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said: 'We are seeing an increase in flu activity mainly among school children indicating the start of this year's flu season.'

Flu cases in children aged five to 14 have doubled in the
past week to reach almost 17 cases per 100,000.

And the worst affected area of the country appears to be North East England, according
to a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine survey.

The news comes as thousands of people around the country
continue to be hit by the winter vomiting bug, with nearly 900,000 people thought
to be affected.

The start of the flu season will add pressure on hospitals
struggling with record levels of norovirus.

Since Oct 1, 51 people have been admitted to intensive care with flu
and three people have died, according to the Daily Telegraph. Overall last week there were 23 GP consultations
per 100,000 people, high enough to trigger the use of antiviral medication in
vulnerable patients.

Influenza occurs most often in winter and usually peaks
between December and March in the northern hemisphere.

And it is not too late to have a vaccination, doctors have advised. Dr Pebody said: ‘Flu vaccination is still the most effective way of
preventing flu and it is not too late to get it so we would encourage all those
who are in “at risk” groups to get vaccinated as they are more vulnerable to
developing complications from flu.

PREVENTING AND TREATING FLU

Maintaining good cough and hand hygiene, such as covering
your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the
tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon you can are important
actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of
transmission.

Symptoms include a sudden fever, cough, sore throat, as well
as aching muscles and joints.

The best treatment for otherwise healthy people is to stay
at home and rest, drink plenty of fluids and take pain relief.

Under-16s should not take medicine containing aspirin.

HPA expert Dr Richard Pebody added: ‘Although unpleasant, flu is a
self-limiting illness and if you have flu it is best to stay at home until you
are well. If people in at risk groups develop symptoms consistent with flu, or
if anyone’s symptoms persist or become more severe, we advise they seek medical
advice.’

To see the current guidance for prescribing antivirals
please go to: www.nice.org.uk . It does not recommend antivirals for the
prevention of flu in otherwise healthy people under 65, even if they have been
in close contact with someone with a flu-like illness.

‘These include people with underlying conditions such as
heart problems, diabetes, lung, liver or renal diseases and those with weakened
immune systems, as well as older people and pregnant women.

‘Latest vaccine uptake figures for one of the ‘at risk’
groups – the over 65 age group – are encouraging, with more than 70 per cent
taking up the offer of the flu vaccine.

‘We do however continue to encourage people in clinical “at
risk” groups, as well as healthcare
workers and carers who could pass the infection to vulnerable people, to ensure
they are vaccinated.'

Anti-viral drugs should be administered for people at risk
of developing complications from flu, the HPA has said.

The drugs reduce the severity of the disease, shorten it by
an average of one day and may help to limit the spread.

Dr Pebody added: ‘As levels of flu have started to increase,
the HPA has recommended that antivirals should be used for the treatment and
prevention of flu in those who are at risk of serious complications. The use of
antivirals is recommended each year when flu is considered to be circulating in
the community.’

The NHS is ready for the flu outbreak, a senior official
said.

Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said:
“The NHS is well prepared for an increase in winter-related health
problems, including flu.

‘Nearly half of under-65s who are most at risk from flu,
including children, have already had the flu jab. We urge patients who are most
at risk from flu and who have not yet had their vaccine to contact their GP as
soon as possible.’

HPA figures show the number of children affected by fever is significantly higher than this time last year

HPA figures show the number of children affected by fever is significantly higher than this time last year

Dr Alma Adler, Research Fellow at the London School of
Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who is running the UK Flusurvey project which
tracks the regions most affected, said: ‘'The data are very preliminary
and flu levels are still very low but overall the results suggest that the
English region most affected by flu is the North East with 19,200 per 100,000.

'We now need more people to sign up and let us know how
they are feeling so we can study these figures in greater depth and increase
our understanding of seasonal flu.'

To take part in the UK flu survey, visit: flusurvey.org.uk