Staying safe in flu season
Flu remains a major health threat across most of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Australia experienced its worst winter on record in 2017, and deaths in the UK have risen three times higher than last year, and is experiencing the worst flu outbreaks since 2011.
H3N2 is the virus making most people sick, and it was also the dominant strain in the Australian season and the reason why many people refer to it as the Australian flu. Though the strain did not originate in Australia (one study suggests that it emerged near Hong Kong), it quickly became dominant during the Australian flu season of 2017 and had gone on to dominate the world infections.
H3N2 can be especially deadly among vulnerable groups like the elderly and children. Public Health England (PHE) said it hoped the fact that 1.5 million more people had the flu jab this winter compared with 2016-2017 would help limit the spread of infection.
PHE figures reveal over half of people admitted to hospital with flu were suffering from influenza B, originating in Japan, and 561 people were suffering from the Antipodean mutation.
Influenza B-Yamagata is commonly known as Japanese flu. It is less serious than the ‘Australian’ flu, but it is more contagious.
“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”, said Professor Paul Cosford, PHE medical director.
It’s a good idea to get the flu jab anyway, because flu season will last several more months, possibly into May. Even if this year’s vaccine isn’t a good match for H3N2, it offers better protection against other flu viruses going around.
Newly-promoted Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called 2017-2018 the “worst winter ever”. Countermeasures and preparations made at the beginning of winter have not been sufficient to alleviate the unanticipated pressure on the system, causing medical professionals and patients to suffer.
The NHS confirmed that A&E performance figures are the worst on record, with over 150,000 people waiting over half an hour to be seen, followed by an average waiting time of four hours for a hospital bed. The worst data occurred in the New Year period – the last week of December and the first week of January.
This is after the NHS issued advice to the public to only attend A&E in emergency situations in order to reduce numbers. Beds have been so full that ambulances have had to divert to alternate A&E locations due to many hospitals regularly reaching capacity.
Dr. Nick Scriven, President of the Society of Acute Medicine, pointed the finger at the decision makers at the top, where he believes restructuring needs to occur as “the current model is not sustainable” to keep up with what has become normal demand during winter each year.
The Health Secretary has been called out by the Opposition and the medical industry for saying “this is what they signed up for when they chose to study medicine.”
In response, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “The sad reality is that this winter crisis was entirely predictable and avoidable, but Tory ministers have point blank refused to give the NHS and social care the investment required.”
Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow minister for health and social care, said: “This startling admission shows how entirely out of touch with the reality of the NHS winter crisis Jeremy Hunt is.”
There are many global factors at play. It is clear that changes need to be made across the world in the livestock industry where global demand for meat and dairy has driven terrible conditions creating new more resilient viruses. That more extreme weather events, longer winters and more polluted cities caused by climate change are detrimental to health. That our health systems need reform, taking ideas from countries who are doing it well.
Meanwhile, keep taking the vitamins.