The biggest flu outbreak for eight years could be on its way in the United Kingdom, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warned after a 73% rise in people seeing their doctor with flu-like symptoms.
UK family doctors are seeing 69 people with flu symptoms for every 100,000 population according to figures released this week. The rate has shot up almost three-quarters from the 40 people per 100,000 that doctors were seeing the previous week. Douglas Fleming, a director at the RCGP's Birmingham Research Unit, said: "The recent increase is suggestive of an influenza outbreak greater than any seen in the last eight years." He said rates had increased in all age groups and in all regions. The number of people seeing their doctor with flu-like symptoms was highest in the 15 to 44 age group (80 per 100,000 population), followed by the 45 to 64 age group (76 per 100,000 population). In young children aged four and below, GPs saw 57 per 100,000 population. The figure fell to 50 per 100,000 for the five to 14 age group. The figure was lowest in the 65-plus age group where it was 45 per 100,000. The British Department of Health's director of immunisation, Professor David M Salisbury, said: "Flu has started earlier this year than last year and today's figures show an increase in the number of people consulting their GPs with flu-like illnesses. We have had very little flu over the last few years and this year may be like 1999/2000 when figures were quite high. "The best protection against flu is to have the flu jab. If you are over 65 or in one of the risk groups and have not had a jab this year, it's not too late. Contact your surgery to check if they still have supplies and make an appointment - it won't be too late, even after Christmas." Professor Salisbury added: "There are simple steps that everyone can take to help prevent catching colds and flu. Always use a tissue to catch your sneezes, throw away used tissues where germs can linger and regularly wash your hands. "If you think you have flu, stay at home, drink plenty of fluids and take medicines like aspirin or paracetamol for your symptoms."