There was a large increase in the number of GP consultations in England for flu-like illness at the end of 2017, and consultations were above expected rates in Wales and Scotland, according to latest figures collated by Public Health England (PHE).
Statistics from the Royal College of GPs — which contributes to the PHE national influenza report — revealed that there were 18.9 flu-related consultations per 100,000 patients in England in the 51st week of 2017, compared to 11.4 the previous week. This was above the expected rate of 13.1.
Results from the Flusurvey – a tracking programme run jointly by PHE and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – also showed a similar trend.
It revealed that the overall flu-like illness rate for all age groups for week 51 was 70.0 per 1,000, compared with 41.8 per 1,000 in week 50. The highest rate was seen in people aged under 20 years.
Official NHS figures have also revealed that there were 66 hospitalised confirmed influenza cases reported by 12 NHS hospital trusts across England for the same week.
The rate is 1.55 per 100,000 population compared to 1.49 the previous week, and is above the medium impact threshold of 0.94 per 100,000.
PHE said in a statement on 2 January 2018 that the level of GP consultation varies throughout the season and is “currently at a level consistent with influenza circulating in the community.” The statement added: “It has not reached the peak levels seen last winter.”
The figures come as PHE also confirmed that a new adjuvanted flu vaccine, recently licensed in the UK for use in the elderly, will be recommended for those over 75 in the 2018–2019 vaccination programme.
A statement from PHE said: “After a comprehensive evidence review, the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded that this is likely to be cost-effective and better at preventing flu in adults over 65 years of age. The committee agreed that over 75s, who generally benefit less from current vaccines, should be considered a priority for receiving the adjuvanted vaccine in 2018/19.”
A letter from NHS England sent to GPs and heads of public health and primary care dated 22 December said that JCVI has “advised that the use of the adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine should be a priority for those aged 75 years and over, given that the non-adjuvanted inactivated vaccine has showed no significant effectiveness in this group over recent seasons, and the adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine is therefore currently considered to be the only licensed cost-effective option for this group”.
The letter confirmed that the adjuvanted trivalent inactivated flu vaccine Fluad, marketed by Seqirus, was licensed for use in the UK in late 2017 and is available for use in the 2018–2019 season.