The latest Public Health England (PHE) figures on flu, covering the penultimate week of last year, show that the virus is now circulating at elevated levels, after cases soared in all UK countries.
The figures were published in the flu monitoring report for week 51 of 2017 – which ended 24 December. On Tuesday of the same week, the CMO authorised prescribing of antivirals on the NHS.
Extracted from GP practice data, the data show cases climbed 66% to a rate of 18.9 per 100,000 in England. Cases also rose 59% in Wales, 26% in Scotland and doubled in Northern Ireland.
Compared to levels observed at the end of the preceding year in 2016, all countries had higher rates.
The spikes mean that all regions apart from Northern Ireland have now surpassed baseline threshold levels, which typically denotes the start of influenza activity in a season.
The current numbers mean England, Wales and Scotland are now experiencing ‘low’ intensity levels of flu activity according to European guidelines.
Cases must exceed 24.2 per 100,000 in England to be considered ‘moderate’ intensity based on this system, and over 68.7 to be considered ‘high’.
The figures put levels above those observed at the end of the preceding year, 2016, and come after experts warned the UK could face a serious flu crisis this winter.
Further statistics released by the DH show that almost 585,000 primary care healthcare workers received a dose of the vaccine between the start of September and the end of November 2017.
This puts coverage at 59% of workers overall receiving the vaccine, up from the 56% who did so over the same period in 2016.
Meanwhile, data on uptake in GP patients show that 69% of over-65s received the vaccine, alongside 43% of pregnant women, 36% of two-year-olds, 37% of three-year-olds and 43% of other at-risk patients.
In the report, PHE said: ‘During week 51, influenza activity continues to increase for several indicators, in particular the proportion of laboratory samples positive for influenza in primary and secondary care and influenza admissions to hospital and intensive care.’