Seasonal Flu Levels Trigger Use Of Antiviral Drugs

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Health Protection Agency has confirmed that the rate at which influenza viruses are now circulating in England has reached the point which triggers the use of antiviral drugs.

The most recent surveillance data published by the Health Protection Agency indicates that the overall rate of influenza-like illness has exceeded the threshold at which the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance recommends that antiviral drugs be used.

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.

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Professor John Watson , Head of the Respiratory Diseases Department at the Health Protection Agency, said: ' Our surveillance shows that since mid December this year seasonal flu activity has started to increase to normal seasonal levels which the NICE guidelines refer to as the level seen most winters.

'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. People with flu are advised to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take pain relievers such as paracetamol. Good hygiene practice 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.

Although unpleasant, flu is a self-limiting illness. If you have flu it is best to stay away from work or school while ill to avoid infecting others. Individuals should seek medical advice if symptoms persist or become more severe.

Professor Watson said: 'Vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal influenza and these groups should have been vaccinated by now. Antivirals are only effective if taken within 48 hours of 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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