Statistics released today by the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH) indicate that the flu season has started.
Information collected from GPs shows that the number of patients attending them with flu-like illness has risen in the last three weeks and is now above the baseline which is used a marker for flu circulating in the community. Reports from hospital laboratories are confirming the situation. News has been received about a number of isolated outbreaks of ‘flu-like illnesses in different parts of Scotland.
An increased number of cases is being noted in children. This is to be expected as in the last three years, there has been little flu in Scotland. Mainly older people have been vaccinated against the illness. Therefore children are less likely to have been exposed and to then develop immunity to the virus. Because of this they have a greater risk of being infected when flu first arrives.
Unfortunately, deaths in three children aged between 2 and 8 years, have been reported as a result of flu or its complications. They have occurred over the last 2 months. There are on average between 300 and 350 deaths a year in children, two of which are usually recorded as having been due to influenza or its complications. The occurrence of these 3 deaths is unusual and of course tragic for the families. Scottish laboratories are now better able to detect the virus in people's bodies and this may be a factor in recognising the cause of these deaths.
The occurrence of these tragic deaths is not of itself a sign that this year's influenza season will lead to more deaths in children. Nor does it mean that necessarily children are at higher risk of complications. Experience from previous flu outbreaks shows that those of any age, who have a chronic complaint (including kidney disease, diabetes, significant asthma and bronchitis) or lowered immunity (due to steroid medication, cancer treatment) or other serious medical complaints, are most at-risk
Vaccination offers the best protection. Flu vaccines are very safe. Experts who advise the government on immunisation state that vaccination should be targeted at older people and the at-risk groups listed above. Because for the majority of people (including children) flu is not life threatening, however unpleasant it may be, it is the ‘at risk' groups who benefit most from vaccination. The current immunisation programme is therefore targeted at those most in need and for whom it will be most effective.
Dr. Jim McMenamin of SCIEH said "I would like to reassure parents that although of concern, it is rare for children to die of ‘flu or other respiratory viruses. Virtually always children completely recover from these illnesses. I would advise parents that should their child be in one of the groups considered to be at higher risk of complications of ‘flu, they should contact their GP to be vaccinated. It's not too late to be vaccinated. For other children my advice is that should they develop ‘flu-like symptoms, they should not go to school or nursery, stay at home and drink plenty. If symptoms last longer than four to five days or a parent is worried about their condition being severe or getting worse, seek help from your local GP. "
"I reinforce our previous advice that older people (over 65 years of age) and adults at risk should take up the offer of immunisation against ‘flu."
" I and my colleagues throughout Scotland are continuing to monitor the situation closely and we have alerted GPs and hospitals about it".
Notes to editors
. Those with flu-like illness can contact their local surgery especially if their symptoms have not settled after 5 days or they have got worse or they think they are seriously ill or they develop chest pain or shortness of breath."Http://www.scotland.gov.uk/flu_pneumococcalToday all doctors in Scotland were alerted about the situation by a letter from the CMO (ref). Because of the likely anxiety this news could create, all are conscious of the need to provide support to those concerned especially parents. To this end, NHS 24 are setting up an information line (Tel.: 08000 28 28 16) for people who are worried but don't have symptoms. Basic advice on flu is proved in the SEHD Flu leaflet "Flu – Don't let the ‘flu bug bite" which is available on
Scottish public health agencies have been liasing closely with their UK counterparts who have a similar picture and are communicating witheir doctors.
There are two main types of virus that cause infection, influenza A and influenza B. A number of flu isolates from Scottish patients this season have been positive for Influenza A of a strain known as Fujian. This virus is slightly different to those previously circulating in this country. It is too early to say if it will be the main strain this year. However, although this is a new strain in Scotland, it was seen earlier this year in the Southern hemisphere. In countries like Australia and New Zealand, it did cause a rise in the numbers of flu cases but not a pandemic. The current vaccine although not totally protective, has been demonstrated to induce a response from the body's defences to this strain of virus.
A flu vaccination is recommended if you are:
65 years old or over
If you are over 6 months and have:
A chronic heart or chest complaint including asthma or bronchitis
Chronic kidney disease
Lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication, cancer treatment, no spleen or splenic dysfunction
Any other long term medical complaint - check with your doctor if you are unsure.
Vaccination is also recommended for:
People living in places where there is a high risk of flu spreading quickly, such as nursing homes.
all health care workers involved in the delivery of care and/or support to patients.
The Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH) coordinates a comprehensive surveillance programme for the early identification of influenza throughout the winter period. Information from the Scottish Enhanced Respiratory Virus Infection Surveillance (SERVIS), the GP Flu spotter scheme, and routine laboratory reports is collected and analysed on a weekly basis during the flu season. Further details of this scheme and general information on flu can be found at http://www.show.scot.nhs.uk/scieh/
SCIEH collates information on the uptake of flu vaccine by the over 65 year age groups from the NHS Boards and reports this activity annually at the end of the flu season to the Scottish Executive (SE).