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The total of flu patients on wards has leapt by almost 70 per cent week-on-week, and admissions are now the highest since the 2017/18 season.
Prof Peter Openshaw, an immunologist at Imperial College London, said many viruses were circulating but the rise in flu was “particularly striking”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “It’s been a very tough time for all those viruses that normally thrive in the winter and they’ve been coming back with quite unusual patterns.”
There were 1,377 patients with flu on general hospital wards in England last Sunday plus 102 in critical care.
This was an increase of 69 per cent from 816 patients the previous Sunday, with 66 in critical care.
Prof Openshaw added: “We do have vaccines not only against Covid…but also influenza vaccines. We really do need to redouble our attempts to get people to take the vaccines but also to develop new and better vaccines.”
Prof Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, agreed winter viruses appear to be making a comeback after people had a lack of exposure to them in the pandemic:
“In the last two winters when people were isolating, we saw much lower cases of upper respiratory tract infections, ear infections, sore throats, that sort of thing, compared to what we’re seeing now. It’s almost doubled if not trebled in incidence.
“It’s not too late to get your flu jab. Usually the peak time for influenza is between Christmas and New Year.”
Research by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggests children who have the nasal spray flu vaccine may also be protected from strep A.
Data from 2013 to 2017, when the vaccine was piloted, was used to compare rates of infections in areas where it was offered to all youngsters with those where only some received it.
There were lower infection rates in areas widely using the vaccine, but no difference in scarlet fever or invasive Group A strep rates.
Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: “These findings provide yet more reasons for parents of eligible children to bring them forward for the flu vaccine…when we are seeing unusually high rates of Group A Strep infection.”
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