The RCGP has warned that flu presentations in general practice have risen by 153% since the start of the year, and 42% during this week alone.
Its Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC), which compiles the data, found that an estimated 31,300 patients in England visited their GP for flu in the week running from 8 to 14 January.
Wales is now the hardest-hit part of the UK, with intensity of flu reaching ‘high’ levels according to EU definitions.
All other UK countries saw flu levels rise but remain overall at a ‘medium’ alert, with levels in England rising from 37.3 cases per 100,000 in week 1 of 2018 up to 53.1 in the week to 14 January.
The statistics show that the Midlands and east of England is the worst affected region, with GP visits at 57.9 per 100,000.
Rates of other common winter illnesses, which saw a sharp rise last week, largely levelled out this week, the data suggest.
Flu levels rising
Monitoring data from Public Health England (PHE) shows that the rate of hospitalisations for flu rose slightly from 7.39 per 100,000 to 8.21 per 100,000.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘General practice continues to face huge winter pressures with a significant increase in patients presenting with influenza, and high numbers of patients continuing to present with other common winter illnesses.
‘Wintertime always brings challenges for the health service, and GP practices have prepared well in order to deliver the best possible care for patients. But patients can also help in keeping themselves safe and well during the cold weather.
‘The best prevention for flu, other than observing good hygienic practices, such as regular hand washing, is for people, particularly those in at-risk groups, including patients with long-term conditions and pregnant women, to get their flu jab. It is not too late to receive some benefit from vaccination.’
Professor Simon de Lusignan, medical director for the RSC, said: ‘We’re seeing numbers of presentations of respiratory conditions change little this week, but unsurprisingly given what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from GPs, rates of influenza-like illness have risen again.
‘Whilst flu rates in primary care are still within what we term the "medium threshold", the virus does seem to be affecting patients aged over 65 most, with rates moving into the "very high threshold".’