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Flu levels soaring with one in five hospital cases suffering ‘Aussie flu’

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flu levels are soaring with one in five cases in hospital suffering from the deadly strain dubbed “Aussie flu” official figures show.The statistics from Public Health England (PHE) show that across the country, rates of flu have close to doubled in one week, with a 51 per cent rise in cases hospitalised .

Health officials last night urged NHS staff to take up flu vaccinations, with suggestions that it should become mandatory for frontline staff to have the jabs. The figures show rates of GP consultations about flu have gone from 21 per 100,000 people to 37.3 per 100,000 people in one week.Separate figures suggest at least 4 million people in England are suffering from flu.

Meanwhile there were 758 confirmed influenza cases hospitalised – of which 157 were the A(H3N2) strain dubbed “Aussie flu” after it fuelled the country’s worst flu season for two decades.Overall, the rate of hospitalised cases has risen by 51 per cent, the statistics show. The figures, which cover the week ending on 7 January, show 7.38 cases per 100,000 population, compared with rates of 4.89 per 100,000 the previous week.

Health officials today repeated calls for those eligible for jabs to come forward. Pensioners, adults with chronic health problems like diabetes and asthma, pregnant women and children under the age of nine are all eligible for free NHS vaccination.While 71 per cent of pensioners have been vaccinated, just 46 per cent of pregnant women and 47 per cent adults in clinical risk groups have had the jab, along with less than 50 per cent of children, the latest statistics show.

And in some NHS hospital trusts, as few as one in three frontline staff have been vaccinated, official figures show.Health officials today launched a public awareness campaign urging the public to “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it”.The campaign will appear in the press, radio, digital and video on demand encouraging people to “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it.”

Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and hard surfaces for up to 24 hours.It is very infectious, especially within the first five days, so the public are being encouraged to “Catch” any sneezes in a tissue, “Bin” any tissues immediately and “Kill” the virus by washing their hands with soap and warm water.Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer said: “Flu can kill and it is important we all take it seriously.

“The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get the flu jab. If you are suffering from flu-like symptoms you should catch your coughs or sneezes in tissues, bin the tissue immediately, and wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water.”

Professor Paul Cosford, PHE medical director said: “Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospitals with the flu. We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia. All vaccines offer cover against this strain of flu and so we urge people to take up the offer of the vaccine.”

Earlier this week, health officials called for a “serious debate” about introducing mandatory flu jabs for NHS staff, amid a deepening winter crisis.Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, said action was needed to tackle “massive variation” between hospitals, with as few as one third of medical workers vaccinated at some hospital trusts.Experts say around one quarter of NHS staff will contract flu during a typical season.

Of those, about half will avoid major symptoms, meaning they are likely to remain in work, spreading infections. Sir Bruce urged NHS staff who have not been vaccinated to heed pleas to do so, in order to protect millions of patients.But he suggested far more radical action should be considered in future, to prevent the spread of flu across hospitals – including the possibility of mandatory vaccination for staff.

“At the moment staff can be going into work and unknowingly transmitting flu to sick patients, and also to other staff at a time when we really need all hands on deck,” he told The Telegraph .The NHS medical director said a debate about mandatory vaccination was now inevitable.“We need to be discussing this; we need to be looking at the evidence, the best ways to protect patients, the precedents elsewhere, the debate around personal choice, as well as looking at other ways to improve take-up,” he said.

Sir Bruce said major changes could be achieved if trusts with poor take-up of jabs learned from the best and found ways to “make it easy, and less hassle” for staff to have the vaccine.The calls follow a study by Imperial College London which found every 10 per cent increase in NHS vaccination rates was linked with a 10 per cent fall in sickness absence.

Internationally, mandatory vaccination of healthcare staff against flu remains rare, though it was introduced by Virginia Mason Institute, a global safety pioneer, more than a decade ago.France, which is currently battling a flu epidemic, is just about to introduce compulsory vaccination for all children against 11 diseases, including flu.

Official figures from Public Health England (PHE) show 58 trusts where less than half of staff had been vaccinated by the end of November.Among hospital trusts, the lowest figure of 33.7 per cent was at Kings College NHS foundation trust in London.Humber NHS foundation trust, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation trust, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust all had less than 45 per cent of staff vaccinated, the statistics show.

Across the whole of the NHS, the average uptake rate was less than 60 per cent.A spokesman for King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “These figures only reflect vaccination figures to the end of November 2017. Since then, we have seen an increase in the number of vaccinations among frontline staff across the Trust and this will be reflected in the new figures, which are due to be published in mid-January. ”