Fears of flu epidemic in two weeks as UK death toll rises to 149

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8.3million people, 15 per cent of the UK population, are believed to have been hit by symptoms this week. Thousands have been hospitalised, with ‘Aussie’ and ‘Japan’ strains to blame.

The latest figures reveal the flu crisis could reach epidemic level in just two weeks, as the UK death toll rises to 149.

As many as 8.3million people – 15 per cent of the UK population – are believed to have been hit by symptoms this week.

Last week 4,500 people were in hospital, an increase of 11 per cent on the last seven days.

Some 120 flu deaths have been recorded in England, 21 are known to have died in Scotland and eight in Northern Ireland. No precise data exists for Wales.

Thousands have been hospitalised by flu across Britain, as four strains of the killer virus attack the population, including the ‘Aussie’ and ‘Japanese’ strains.

The latter is responsible for nearly half of all hospitalisations recorded, while the dreaded H3N2 strain that rocked Australia caused a fifth of them.

Fears of flu epidemic in two weeks as UK death toll rises to 149
Fatalities have soared by 45 per cent while cases are still accelerating amid fears of the worst outbreak in 50 years that could last until March

Public Health England figures released today show a ‘significant excess’ of deaths among the over 65s in England.

The outbreak could last until March, researchers from Melbourne and Sydney universities have predicted as they discovered the killer virus tends to circulate for a grueling 15 weeks.

Cases have reached their worst levels in seven years, since 2010/11, as the number of people visiting their doctor with symptoms rise by 40 per cent in a week.

The outbreak, already 16 times worse than last year’s, is piling extra pressure on an over-stretched NHS with conditions the worst some doctors claim to have seen.

It comes as the Government has declared a bird flu prevention zone across the whole of England, as more dead wild birds were found with the virus.

Officials have warned this winter’s flu outbreak is the ‘most significant’ in seven years – but graphs suggest it has peaked and is slowing down.

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director, Public Health England warned there is a mix of flu types circulating the UK this year.

He said: ‘Our data continues to show that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospital with flu.

‘In terms of hospital admission, this is the most significant flu season since the winter of 2010/11 and the preceding pandemic year of 2009 although it is not an epidemic.’

And a new study has found outbreaks tend to last four months, which experts fear will only pour further misery on the health service.

According to the analysis, made by Australian researchers, this winter’s outbreak has roughly seven weeks left to run – roughly until March.

Researchers from Sydney and Melbourne universities discovered Australia suffers from flu outbreaks that last around 15 weeks on average.

Their analysis of flu outbreaks endured in the country between 2006 and 2016 was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

The flu season in the UK and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere tends to mirror what has happened in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.

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Week 48 was roughly when the UK’s outbreak began, statistics show, suggesting week 9 – the first week on March – would be the last.

Shamir Patel, director of online pharmacist Chemist-4-U, said: ‘If you analyse these new stats, the outbreaks in Australia each lasted for around 15 weeks every year.

‘According to Public Health England, Britain’s own outbreak has been ongoing since the end of November 2017.

‘So if these sorts of time-frames were to be replicated here in the UK, the NHS could be dealing with a deluge of cases right up until the middle of March.

‘We all need to be prepared for such an eventuality.’

If the outbreak does last that long, which happened in the UK last winter, thousands more fatalities could be expected in the coming weeks.

Health agencies for each of the home nations monitor ‘excess deaths’ – how many more people die than expected – to give a rough estimate.

However, Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland and Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency all provide data on how many have died in intensive care.

This means the death toll of 141 is likely to only be a fraction of the true number. A rough victim count will be tallied at some point later this year.

Deaths have already risen to worrying levels in Scotland, with Northern Ireland also now showing a ‘statistically significant’ amount of excess deaths.

Wales is being hit the hardest, with flu symptoms reported in GP consultations being considered ‘high’. The rest of the UK falls under the ‘moderate’ bracket.