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The BBC's Karen Allen
"All age groups are at risk"
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BBC's Andrew Cassell
Reporting from Glasgow, Scotland
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BBC's Denis Murray
Reporting from Belfast, Northern Ireland
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BBC's Daniel Boettcher
Reporting from Worthing, Southern England
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Prof Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer
"The scale of it has taken us aback"
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Monday, 10 January, 2000, 07:28 GMT
Flu numbers 'keep growing'

The number of people infected by the flu bug sweeping the UK continues to rise, doctors have said.

Interim results collected by the Royal College of General Practitioners are understood to show that the number of flu cases in England increased by a third last week, and showed no sign of slowing down.

Professor Liam Donaldson, the government's chief medical officer, has controversially claimed that the UK is experiencing its first flu epidemic for a decade.

This is despite the fact that the interim statistics suggest the outbreak is only halfway towards reaching epidemic status.

He told the BBC: "We expected there would be some flu around this year, but the scale of it has rather taken us aback."

However, flu expert Dr Douglas Fleming, who directs a unit which compiles the official flu figures, disputed his "epidemic" claims.

He said: "The figures used to describe an epidemic are a convention and were agreed by the Department of Health.

"I would like to know what the reason is for calling this an epidemic if the figures have not been changed."

We expected there would be some flu around this year, but the scale of it has rather taken us aback
Professor Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer
During the last officially-declared epidemic in the UK, in 1989, 29,000 flu-related deaths were reported.

At its peak, there were 534 recorded cases in every 100,000 - well above the 400 threshold which defines an epidemic.

The latest outbreak has already claimed several lives, including 33-year-old former Welsh international Rugby player Kieron Gregory.

Mr Gregory, who played for Tredegar Rugby Club, died at home following a hospital check-up for flu.

Scottish novelist and historian Nigel Tranter, 90, also died on Saturday after developing flu.

But doctors have urged flu-sufferers not to take up vital NHS resources by making unnecessary visits.

GPs have been inundated by victims while an influx of seriously ill patients cut the number of available emergency hospital beds in the UK to as few as 21 over the weekend.

Milburn defends NHS

Health Secretary Alan Milburn said the outbreak was putting pressure on the NHS, but hospitals were coping.

Flu: have you got it?
Symptoms: sudden onset, high temperature, shivers, 'too ill to move' feeling, muscle and joint pain, deep cough causing restricted breathing
Treatment: lower temperature with paracetamol, increase fluid intake, complete rest for a few days
Vulnerable: elderly, very young, those with existing respiratory problems, eg. severe asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Hospital: the above people may need hospital care if breathing problems worsen
NB: Most antibiotics do not help flu - unless you are a vulnerable patient it is pointless taking them
He said the virus sweeping the country had led to serious complications, which meant people were "much more seriously ill than normal" when they entered hospital, and needed to stay longer.

"The people who need intensive care are getting it and they will continue to get it," he insisted.

"The NHS won't let this thing get out of control."

But he warned: "This is a very serious outbreak of flu. Nobody is sure when it will peak".

Shadow health secretary Liam Fox said Mr Milburn was mistaken if he believed the NHS was coping with the crisis.

"If Alan Milburn really believes that the health service is coping well he must be living in an isolation unit all on his own.

"Doctors, nurses and patients who are living in the real world are astonished that the health service of the world's fifth largest economy in the 21st century should be brought to its knees by a flu epidemic."

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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  Health
Flu vaccination - the facts
09 Jan 00 |  Health
NHS on its knees, say Tories
09 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Flu blamed for death of Scottish author
10 Jan 00 |  Wales
Investigation into rugby player's death
08 Jan 00 |  Health
Flu pushes NHS to breaking point
07 Jan 00 |  Wales
A curry a day keeps the 'flu bug away

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