The number of cases of influenza-like illness reported by GPs increased to 87.1 per 100,000 in the week up to 19 December, up from 32.8 the previous week. The West Midlands and London have seen the biggest rise in cases and the under-65s continue to make up the majority of cases.
A statement accompanying the figures from RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre said that incidence of influenza-like illness has more than doubled since last week across all age groups and all regions.
‘Rates are highest in 5-14 years and after that 0-4 and 15-44 are similar,’ it said. ‘Rates have increased in 45-64 years but remain comparatively low in 65+ years. There have also been substantial increases in all age groups in reports of acute bronchitis and the common cold.’
The DoH is working to feed back data on flu jab uptake to practices to help improve vaccination levels. Uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine among at-risk under-65s is currently around 2.5% lower than it was this time last year.
The GPC warned last week that there was a 'crisis brewing' as flu cases rise. GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the DoH needed to 'step up a gear in terms of publicity and getting people immunised'. ‘We really would appeal to the DoH to step up their publicity because if anything will jeopardise this year’s savings plan it will be a flu outbreak.’
Labour’s shadow health secretary John Healey has accused the government of failing to make sure sound advice about the importance of flu vaccination has been widely given to the public.
Mr Healey echoed the GPC’s criticism of health secretary Andrew Lansley’s decision to axe the national flu vaccine awareness campaign.