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Doctors fear winter flu crisis

20 December 2010

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Health experts have warned that a major flu crisis could be about to flare up.

Senior GPs said fewer patients are bothering to have the seasonal flu jab, with particular concern focused on the fact that at-risk groups, such as pregnant women and those with diabetes and heart disease, are failing to get themselves protected.

As well as warding off normal flu – itself a killer of vulnerable groups – the vaccine protects against swine flu, which despite sinking out of the media spotlight is still circulating.

Department of Health guidelines recommend even those people in at-risk groups who had the swine flu jab last year should come forward for the new seasonal vaccine.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said lower immunisation rates have increased fears that a normal seasonal flu outbreak could prove much more serious this time.

An estimated 67.2% of over-65s and 41.5% of under-65s in at-risk groups have had the flu jab in England.

This is just behind last year’s figure for the over-65s, but 5% behind vaccination rates seen this time last year for at-risk groups.

Data also showed that the number of people visiting their GPs with flu-like illness has risen to 35 cases per 100,000, up from 13 in the previous week.

The highest rates are among five to 14-year-olds and babies aged one to four.

At-risk groups include people over 65, those suffering from a chronic heart or chest complaint, people with asthma, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and those with lowered immunity due to cancer.

Copyright © Press Association 2010