Increase In Seasonal Flu Levels Triggers Use Of Antiviral Drugs

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Flu activity has increased in the community in recent weeks according to surveillance schemes monitored by the Health Protection Agency. As a result, the Agency has recommended to the Department of Health that antiviral drugs for flu should now be used according to guidance provided by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The Agency has examined a range of clinical, virological and epidemiological influenza surveillance schemes including:

- Cases of flu confirmed through the Agency's laboratories

- Calls to NHS Direct related to fever and cold/ flu

- Royal College of General Practitioners' data on consultation rates for flu-like illness

- The numbers of reported and confirmed flu-like illness outbreaks reported across the country

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Together these schemes indicate that we are now entering a period when there is a substantial likelihood that people presenting with a flu-like illness are infected with flu virus. In other words, surveillance schemes indicate that flu virus is now circulating.

Dr Richard Pebody, a flu expert from the Health Protection Agency, said: "Since early December seasonal flu activity has started to increase to the normal levels seen most winters.

"Doctors in England have now been advised that the use of antiviral drugs for the prevention or treatment of flu in patients who are at higher risk of developing complications from the infection is now recommended.

"For most people, flu is miserable, lasting a week or so, but not life threatening. For those in at-risk groups, however, such as the elderly and patients with heart problems, diabetes or lung, liver or renal diseases, or those who have weak immune systems, it can be far more dangerous and can lead to more serious illnesses."

Symptoms of seasonal flu include sudden onset of headache, fever, and symptoms such as cough, sore throat, aching muscles and joints.

Dr Pebody said: "If you do get flu this year, our advice is to stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies if they make you feel more comfortable.

"Good hand and respiratory hygiene such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon you can are important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of transmission.

"Vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal influenza and these groups should have been vaccinated by now. Antiviral drugs are only effective if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms and may help limit the impact of some symptoms and reduce the potential for serious complications. However, it is difficult to avoid infection if there is a lot of flu circulating."

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