Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Flu outbreak 'may have hit peak'

Flu
Experts believe the outbreak of flu cases is peaking

The outbreak of flu cases looks like it has peaked, experts say.

While the number of cases has risen by 25% in England and Wales in the past week, doctors said that was expected as surgeries re-opened after Christmas.

The figure for last week was lower than the week before Christmas and the Royal College of GPs said it expected rates to fall in the coming weeks.

The recent figures have been high compared to previous years, but are still well short of an epidemic.

The figures for last week showed there were 51 GP consultations for flu-like illness per 100,000 of the population - up from 41 per 100,000 during the week of Christmas.

But in the week before that it nearly hit 70, according to the Royal College of GPs, raising fears of a serious outbreak, with intense pressure on health services.

Prof Steve Field: "We don't expect it to get any worse"

Vaccine

Experts have urged anyone over the age of 65 or with a chronic condition to make sure they get a flu vaccine.

Flu has been rising in recent weeks, prompting GPs to prescribe antiviral drugs in high-risk patients who fall ill.

But an epidemic is classed as 200 new cases a week per 100,000.

It is highly probable that the influenza cases we have been seeing are now peaking
Dr Douglas Fleming, of the Royal College of GPs

Experts believe the unusually cold weather may have contributed to the surge in flu cases.

In the past 10 years, the only substantial outbreak was in 1999-2000 and the last official epidemic of flu was in 1989-90 when there were 580 new cases per 100,000.

But in recent years the number of new cases has struggled to climb above 50.

Dr Douglas Fleming, of the Royal College of GPs, said: "It is highly probable that the influenza cases we have been seeing are now peaking.

"I would expect the numbers to come down in the coming weeks and it shows the vaccination programme is working."

Respiratory disease

The latest figures also show that cases of respiratory disease rose from 478.8 per 100,000 at Christmas to 637.1 last week.

Cases of acute bronchitis cases also rose from 133.7 at Christmas to 202.3 in the first week of January.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the rise in bronchitis cases could put a strain on hospitals.

He said: "Some bronchitis ends up as pneumonia and can come after flu or be caused by other infections.

"Most cold and flu-like symptoms can be managed by looking after yourself but in some cases bronchitis will require hospitalisation."

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