A LIFE-threatening flu epidemic could hit the UK this winter, experts have warned – as two toddlers die of the virus in the US.
Health officials confirmed a four-year-old boy from California died from the virus last month while another child, under the age of four, died in New York this week.
Flu season typically starts in October and can stretch to March – but experts say these early fatalities could be an indicator of a severe outbreak.
Cameron Kaiser,a public health officer of Riverside County in California, said: “We should never forget that the flu still kills.
“I always recommend people get their flu shots every year, but a death so early in the flu season suggests this year may be worse than usual.”
Britain and America’s flu season tends to mirror what happens in Australia, which has seen a spike of deadly cases in recent months.
Get the jab
Professor Robert Dingwall, a public health expert at Nottingham Trent University, told The Sun Online: “The Australians have had a very bad flu season and we should expect the same flu strain to appear here later this winter.
“Fortunately, it is a variant on the strain that was here last year and the available vaccines should give good protection.
“However, it does mean that it is more important than ever for people who are offered vaccination to take it up.
“If you are not in one of those vulnerable groups, it is also worth thinking about investing a few pounds in protecting yourself from what could be a rather unpleasant experience.
“This is especially the case if you are working in a job that involves a lot of contact with the general public, especially with children – toddlers are particularly good at spreading the virus.”
Prof Dingwall added that there had been a delay in the manufacturing of some vaccines, including a nasal spray for children, generally aged two and three.
He said: “There have been some delays with one vaccine product, mainly because of manufacturing issues.
“Injectable supplies are generally available for under 16s and over 65s.
“The adult version for those between 16 and 65, including pregnant women, has been delayed by a couple of weeks, although it is now coming through.
“The nasal spray version for under 16s has also been delayed because one batch required further testing before it could be released.
“There are some indications of an increase in demand as people become more aware of the benefits of vaccination, which is also putting pressure on supplies.”
What are the symptoms of flu?
Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:
- a sudden fever – a temperature of 38C or above
- an aching body
- feeling tired or exhausted
- a dry cough
- a sore throat
- a headache
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- diarrhoea or tummy pain
- nausea and being sick
The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.
The flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching flu, as well as spreading it to others.
It’s more effective to get the vaccine before the start of the flu season (December to March).
Source: NHS UK
Prof Dingwall added: “We are looking at a bad flu season that will put extra pressure on health services at a time when they are already struggling after ten years of squeezed NHS funding.
“Getting vaccinated at any time between now and Christmas would be a public-spirited act that would help your GP and local hospital to cope better – but they are still likely to be having a hard time by January.”
We are looking at a bad flu season that will put extra pressure on health services at a time when they are already struggling
Professor Robert Dingwall
Australia has just had one of its worst flu seasons in two decades – second only to the country’s worst outbreak in 2017 when 745 people died which was double that of the previous year.
Most recent figures show that there have been 662 fatalities in Australia so far this year.
Experts in Australia say this year’s surge in cases could be down to the fact that three strains of the virus are in circulation – influenza A(H1N1), influenza A(H3N2) and influenza B.
Professor Robert Booy, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney, said this“certainly makes things worse”.
He also said immunity could be lower due to the quiet flu season in 2018.
Prof Booy told the Sydney Morning Herald: “We went from a very busy to a very quiet year, and as a consequence, as the virus mutates and changes the level of immunity in the community starts to fall off again, and therefore we may have a lot more susceptible people.”