• Winter flu cases accelerate as
10 people die in the past week
• At-risk groups urged to visit GP practice for vaccination
Ten people have died from flu in the past week, according to the Health Protection Agency, taking the total this season to 27.
Doctors have seen flu cases more than double over the past week. The Royal College of GPs says confirmed cases have risen from 32.8 to 87.1 per 1,000. The true figure will be higher as some people will stay at home in bed without seeing a doctor.
Most of the deaths – 24 out of 27 – were from H1N1 swine flu, the most virulent of the two main strains circulating. Eighteen of those who died were adults and nine were children.
About half of those who died had an underlying health condition, which would have made them especially vulnerable to flu and also makes them eligible for the vaccine. The jab protects against three strains, including the two that have caused deaths, swine flu and influenza B.
The HPA acknowledges it is not the over-65s, who are routinely called for vaccination by many GPs, who are being worst hit. "A small proportion of flu cases are resulting in severe disease, particularly in people under the age of 65," it said. "This is due to the fact that H1N1 is more likely to infect young people and, unfortunately, a very small number of these may develop severe disease."
Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, which collects the data said: "The level of flu activity we are seeing is at levels often seen during the winter flu seasons, but due to the fact that H1N1 is one of the predominant strains circulating at the moment, we are seeing more severe illness in people under the age of 65 than we would normally expect."
He urged people in at-risk groups for flu – generally the over-65s and those with health problems, but also now expectant mothers – to go to their GP practice for vaccination.
"Flu can be an extremely serious illness for people in 'at-risk' groups, including pregnant women, the elderly and those with other underlying conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, lung, liver or renal diseases and those who have weakened immune systems," he said. The vaccine is safe and effective, he added.