RCGP reveals new figures showing that flu rates are up 150% since the start of 2018
Flu presentations in general practice have risen 152.9% since the start of the year and 42% in a week according to the latest figures (up to January 14) from the Royal College of GPs’ Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC).
Based on the rates presenting to the RSC, an estimated 31,300 patients in England attended their GP practice with influenza-like-illness (ILI) between January 8 to 14 – signifying a rise of over 9,000 on the previous week. This takes into account data collected from over 1.7m patients (1,701,482) – the RSC’s biggest patient sample since the Centre started collecting data.
Broken down by region, the Midlands and East England, which includes Birmingham, Norwich and Nottingham, was worst affected where 57.9 patients per 100,000 population presented with ILI – an increase from 35.5 per 100,000 the previous week.
Next was North England, including Manchester, York and Newcastle, with 57.3 patients per 100,000 population presenting with ILI – up from 34.5. Followed by South England, which includes Bristol, Portsmouth and Canterbury, that saw a rise from 45.3 – 54.3 patients per 100,000 population presenting at their GP practice with ILI.
London rates showed an increase from 30.3 to 42.1 patients per 100,000 population presenting with ILI.
Rates of other common winter illnesses, which saw a sharp rise in last week’s figures, largely levelled out, according to the latest weekly report:
- Acute Bronchitis: decreased from 146.6 to 130.1 per 100,000 population
- Asthma: increased from 16.2 to 17.7 per 100,000 population
- Common Cold: was unchanged at 142.6, compared with 142.3, per 100,000 population
- Influenza-Like illness: increased from 37.3 (week 1) to 53.1 (week 2) per 100,000 population
- Respiratory System Diseases: increased slightly from 463.2 to 467.6, per 100,000 population
Compared to this week last year, the ILI rate is higher (last year it was 20.3 patients per 100,000) – but this could be explained as different strains of flu generally peak at different times; this year the prevalent strain is influenza B – which includes H3N2, or so-called ‘Aussie flu’ – whereas last year it was influenza A.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: “General practice continues to face huge winter pressures with a significant increase in patients presenting with influenza, and high numbers of patients continuing to present with other common winter illnesses.
“Wintertime always brings challenges for the health service, and GP practices have prepared well in order to deliver the best possible care for patients. But patients can also help in keeping themselves safe and well during the cold weather.
“The best prevention for flu, other than observing good hygienic practices, such as regular hand washing, is for people, particularly those in at-risk groups, including patients with long-term conditions and pregnant women, to get their flu jab. It is not too late to receive some benefit from vaccination.
“If someone does have the flu, unfortunately there is no cure, but patients can assist their own recovery through taking plenty of rest and drinking lots of fluids as it is easy to become dehydrated. Fevers and muscle ache, which are often symptoms of flu can also be improved with paracetamol or ibuprofen, if appropriate.
“We do encourage patients who are ill to think hard about whether they do need to see a GP – not just in terms of reducing pressures on the NHS, but to minimise the possibility of passing viruses, such as flu, to other people, particularly in at-risk groups, such as those with long-term conditions or pregnant women.
“The College’s ‘3 before GP’ advice asks patients whether self-care is an option in the first instance; whether advice from a reputable online UK source, such as NHS Choices, could help; or whether they could seek advice from a pharmacist, before booking an appointment with their GP.”
Professor Simon de Lusignan, Medical Director for the RCGP’s Research and Surveillance Centre, said: “We’re seeing numbers of presentations of respiratory conditions change little this week, but unsurprisingly given what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from GPs, rates of influenza-like illness have risen again.
“Whilst flu rates in primary care are still within what we term the ‘medium threshold’, the virus does seem to be affecting patients aged over 65 most, with rates moving into the ‘very high threshold’.
“As ever, flu is unpredictable so it remains impossible to speculate how rates will change in the coming weeks – they may increase further, they may level out or even decline. The RSC will continue to compile data, so that we can inform preparedness plans for next year as comprehensively as possible.”