News story

UK flu levels remain high according to PHE statistics

Seasonal flu levels have continued to increase in the last week across the UK.

Woman sneezing with flu

The latest Public health England (PHE) report published at 14:00 today shows that seasonal flu activity levels have continued to increase in the last week across the UK but various indicators show the rate of increase is slowing.

The statistics show over the last week there has been an 11% increase in the flu hospitalisation rate, a 42% increase in the GP consultation rate with flu like illness compared to the previous week (when practices were open for 4 days), and an 8% reduction in the flu intensive care admission rate. The main strains circulating continue to be flu A(H3N2), A(H1N1) and Flu B.

The report also shows that in weeks 50 2017 to week 2 of 2018, statistically significant excess mortality from all causes is now being observed in over 65s in England although this currently remains lower than the excess mortality observed last season and in 2014 to 2015. These excess deaths cannot with certainty be attributed to specific causes but flu and the very cold weather some areas have seen since Christmas are likely to be contributing factors.

The ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’ campaign continues to run across digital, radio and press advertising platforms to inform the public about the steps they can take to protect themselves and reduce spread of the virus by practising good respiratory hand hygiene.

Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director, Public Health England 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.

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. The A(H3N2) strain particularly affects older, more vulnerable age groups.

The best form of protection against flu is to get the vaccine if you are eligible and to practice good respiratory and hand hygiene.

Whilst this is the most significant flu season since 2010 to 2011 in terms of GP activity, the hospital indicators taken overall suggest that it is, however, less severe at this stage than 2010 to 2011 and in terms of the impact on mortality, we have not reached yet the levels seen in 2014 to 2015 and 2016 to 2017.

The flu virus can live for many hours on hard surfaces and therefore practising good hand hygiene can limit the spread of germs and transmission of flu. People are advised to catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, bin it, and then wash their hands afterwards to kill the germs. Practising good hand hygiene and giving eligible people the flu vaccine is the best defence against the virus.

People suffering with flu-like symptoms should catch coughs or sneezes in tissues and bin them immediately, wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water and frequently clean regularly used surfaces to stop the spread of flu. Avoid having unnecessary contact with other people if you or they have symptoms of flu.

Seasonal flu usually circulates for several weeks each year. The intensity of circulation depends upon the underlying population immunity, the circulating viruses and external factors such as the weather. It is an unpredictable virus and it is not possible to anticipate how flu levels will progress.

Amongst other diseases like norovirus that normally increase during winter, seasonal flu puts extra pressure on the NHS every year.

The latest data is available online. Currently, 71.7% of adults over 65, 47.5% of adults with a long-term health condition, 46% of pregnant women, 41.4% of 3-year-olds and 42.7% of 2-year-olds have received the vaccine.

Published 11 January 2018
Last updated 18 January 2018 + show all updates
  1. Updated weekly flu data.
  2. First published.