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Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) indicate that increases in flu activity continue to be seen across several indicators, including GP consultation rates, the proportion of calls to NHS Direct and new admissions to intensive care or high dependency units.

Children aged five to 14 in particular have been the group most affected by flu so far this season.

Dr Richard Pebody, head of seasonal flu surveillance at the HPA said: “We are continuing to see an increase in flu activity across several of our indicators but historically flu rates go up at this time of year so this is not unusual.

“Vaccination against flu is still the most effective way of preventing the virus in people who are in an ‘at risk’ group, as they are more vulnerable to developing complications from flu. This includes people with underlying conditions such as heart problems, diabetes, lung, liver or renal diseases and those with weakened immune systems, as well as older people and pregnant women.

“Latest vaccine uptake figures for one of the ‘at risk’ groups – the over 65 age group – are encouraging, with more than 70 per cent taking up the offer of the flu vaccine. Among those in an ‘at risk’ group under 65 years of age, uptake is just under 50 per cent and around 40 per cent of pregnant women and healthcare workers have accepted the offer of vaccination this season.”

Symptoms of flu include sudden onset of fever, cough as well as sore throat, aching muscles and joints. The best advice for treating flu in healthy people is to stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and take pain relievers such as paracetamol. Children under 16 should not take any medicines containing aspirin.

Maintaining good cough and hand hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon you can are important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of transmission. The HPA welcomes the launch of the Department of Health’s ‘Catch It. Kill It. Bin it.’ campaign to remind people to practise good respiratory and hand hygiene to prevent the spread of flu.

Dr Pebody, added: “Although unpleasant, flu is a self-limiting illness and if you have flu it is best to stay at home until you are well. If people in at risk groups develop symptoms consistent with flu, or if anyone’s symptoms persist or become more severe, we advise they seek medical advice.

“Every season we remain vigilant and assess the flu situation as more information becomes available from our various surveillance systems and from the different virus samples we receive from across the UK.”

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