Flu vaccine racket  The Media Winter 2011 flu vaccine drive  John Oxford

[Winter 2011 flu vaccine drive kick off by John Oxford.]


Many Britons have little immunity after two years of relatively limited outbreaks

Many Britons have little immunity after two years of relatively limited outbreaks

Monday September 26,2011 By Lucy Elkins Exclusive

BRITAIN is facing one of its worst winter flu ­outbreaks in years, according to the ­country’s leading expert on the virus.

ProfessorJohn Oxford said a big leap in cases in Australia in recent months points to what is likely to happen here.

Many Britons have little immunity after two years of relatively limited outbreaks.

Despite this, the Department of Health last week announced there would be no high-profile flu awareness campaign this winter.

Public health leaders have condemned the inaction as “irresponsible” and “naive”.

Professor Oxford, a virologist at Barts and The London School of Medicine and ­Dentistry, is a world-renowned expert on flu. He warned that the disease posed a threat to everyone, not just high-risk groups.

He said: “I go to Australia every summer to monitor what’s going on and it was pretty bad – hospitals were filling up.“No one is sure why our patterns of flu tend to follow what happens in the southern hemisphere during the summer but it does.

“Unfortunately in Australia there has been a sharp outbreak with higher than normal numbers of flu strains A and B.

“The chances are the same will happen here.

“We won’t know until a bit later into the year when flu levels start to peak – which generally happens when the weather gets colder and people start to ­congregate indoors more.” 
In Australia, the Department of Health and Ageing said flu levels had been “above the peak frequency experienced in previous years”.

At one point last month there were almost 2,000 new cases reported each week – yet their population is a third the size of ours.

The danger from the southern hemisphere is not the only issue to concern health professionals this winter, according to Professor Oxford. He said: “Even without this I would expect older people to be hit harder by flu than they have been in recent years.

“That is because flu strains are like the survival of the fittest and for a couple of years the B strain that is normally prevalent over the winter has been overshadowed by other strains such as swine flu.

“With swine flu and avian flu both just bubbling in the background that means the B strain could strike hard this year.

“As it has not been around much for about two years people’s natural resistance to it will be low and it could hit old people especially hard. It is the over-65s who normally die from this strain.”

Last year more than 600 people died from flu in this country and hospitals cancelled operations as they became overwhelmed with cases. Many other elderly or ill people with flu die each winter but that is not put down as a cause of death.

Last week it emerged that barely a third of health workers had had the flu jab, prompting warnings that they were putting patients at risk. The Government is urging all healthcare workers to protect themselves this year and has ordered two million more shots than last year. Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, the UK’s public health doctors, said staff who did not get vaccinated against ­seasonal flu were guilty of “complete dereliction of duty”.

She said it could endanger the lives of at-risk patients such as babies, the elderly, pregnant women and those with breathing trouble.

Professor Ian Jones, an expert in viruses at the University of Reading, said: “Predicting the next flu season is notoriously difficult, so many ­factors can influence spread and ­public reporting.

“However the southern hemisphere experience makes for a good guess and they have had slightly higher levels of activity than last year although nowhere near the levels of 2009.”

Dr Martin Wiselka, a consultant in infectious disease at Leicester Royal Infirmary, agreed there was no need to panic yet, but urged all at-risk groups to ensure they were vaccinated. He said: “We are not deeply concerned at the moment but we can be caught out – no one was watching Mexico and yet that’s where swine flu came from.”
The Department of Health has provoked a storm of protest after deciding not to fund a long-standing “Catch it. Kill it. Bin it” advertising campaign, which reminds people about good hygiene – crucial in preventing the flu virus from spreading.

It also decided there is “no merit” in a national campaign to encourage people to be vaccinated. Last winter the flu adverts were reinstated after poor uptake of vaccines and pressure on hospital beds forced the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley into an embarrassing U-turn in January.

Professor Davies said the plan to “wait and see” indicated a failure to “learn lessons from last year’s mistakes”.

She said: “It is naive to think GPs can reach everyone in at-risk groups, because many people are not registered.”

Last night a Department of Health spokesperson said: "There is no additional merit in a vaccination advertising campaign for the general population when there is already a targeted approach for those who need to be called. GP surgeries should contact those individuals in the at-risk groups so that they can be vaccinated.

"It is never too early to start thinking about flu and it is vital we remind people at risk to get their annual flu jab. The vaccine will be available from local GPs from the beginning of October and will provide the best form of protection for your family and friends."

What is it?  Flu is a respiratory illness associated with infection by influenza virus. Symptoms frequently include headache, fever, cough, sore throat, aching muscles and joints.
When does it hit? Most often in winter, peaking between December and March in the northern hemisphere. Summer flu-like illnesses are usually due to other viruses.
How is it spread? It is a viral disease passed from one person to another through the air. The disease infects the nose, throat or lungs. Droplets can contaminate the skin and frequent hand-washing is advised.

How many strains are there? There are two main types that cause infection: influenza A and influenza B. Influenza A usually causes a more severe illness than influenza B. The C strain is the mildest type, with symptoms similar to a cold.

New variants are constantly emerging, which is one reason why the flu vaccine should be given each year.

What are the risks? For most people flu is just a nasty experience, but for some it can lead to more serious illnesses, such as bronchitis and secondary bacterial pneumonia. These illnesses can be life-threatening especially in the elderly, asthmatics and those in poor health.

How can I protect myself? It’s possible to get vaccinated against influenza, which is especially advisable for the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases. Pregnant women and children under five are also offered a flu jab.

Because it is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antiviral agents can reduce the severity and duration of infection, but these are generally prescribed only if there are concerns regarding complications of the infection or transmission of more severe strains of the virus.

The best remedy is rest while drinking plenty of fluids.