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Flu remains at high levels

Confirmed cases of influenza (flu) in Wales have increased again this week, and remain at high levels. There have been further outbreaks of flu in hospitals and care homes. Flu cases are at the highest levels seen since 2010/11.

In the week ending 22 January, 2018 consultation rates for influenza-like illness was 74.7 per 100,000 population, indicating high levels. This is an increase of 15% from 65 per 100,000 the previous week, and 36 per 100,000 the week before.

There have been 37 outbreaks of flu and respiratory illnesses reported in care homes and hospitals in Wales so far this winter, this includes 12 outbreaks provisionally reported in the last week.  Flu can spread easily, especially in places like care homes and hospitals, where individuals are often very vulnerable to flu and its complications.

Limited stocks of vaccine remain available currently. Those in at-risk groups not yet vaccinated are advised to speak to their GP surgery or community pharmacy as soon as possible.

Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, said:

“Flu can be a serious condition, especially for those in risk groups such as pregnant women, those aged 65 or over or with a long-term health condition.

“If you catch flu please help to stop the virus spreading by staying away from other people if possible while you are ill, especially if they are very old, very young, pregnant or have a long-term health condition. Follow the Catch it, Bin it, Kill it advice.”

  • Catch it: always use a tissue to cough or sneeze into
  • Bin it: dispose of the tissue after use
  • Kill it: then wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to kill any flu viruses

If you think you might have flu, you can reduce the risk of spreading it to others. Most healthy people with flu can care for themselves at home. They should drink plenty of fluids, take paracetamol or ibuprofen, keep warm and rest.  Symptoms usually resolve in about a week.

Stay away from others as much as possible – especially people who are at increased risk of complications. While you are unwell avoid visiting hospitals or care homes to help reduce the chances of spreading flu in these settings.

Advice on self-care is available on www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk or from community pharmacists or NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47 (or 111 in areas where the 111 Wales service is available).

Most people do not need to contact their GP surgery if they think they might have flu, but people who are more vulnerable to complications should get early advice. Those who are aged 65 or over, have a long-term health condition, are pregnant or are worried about a young child should seek advice from their GP surgery, as should those whose symptoms are deteriorating or are not improving after a week.

People should only attend A&E or call an ambulance if they need urgent care, for example feeling short of breath, chest pain or coughing up blood, or have other serious symptoms, or deteriorate quickly.

Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, added:

“Vaccination is the single best way to protect against catching flu or spreading it. With flu vaccine still available in Wales I encourage all those eligible for the free NHS vaccine to get it as soon as possible.”

Vaccination against flu is offered free of charge by the NHS to people who are aged 65 or over, are pregnant, have certain long-term health conditions, or are unpaid carers. Nasal spray flu vaccine is also still available for children who were age 2 or 3 years on 31st August 2017. In the last two weeks, one in 50 additional 2 and 3 years old children in Wales has received the nasal spray flu vaccine, bringing the total immunised to 48%.

A flu vaccine is also recommended for frontline health and social care workers to protect them and those in their care.

Find out more about flu by visiting www.beatflu.org or www.curwchffliw.org or finding Beat Flu or Curwch Ffliw on Twitter and Facebook.