Hospital admissions for flu in England have overtaken admissions for Covid-19 for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
New figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show that the rate of flu admissions stood at 6.8 per 100,000 people in the week to 11 December, compared with 6.6 per 100,000 for Covid.
Both levels are currently rising, the rate of flu admissions has jumped sharply week-on-week - nearly doubling from 3.9 per 100,000 - while Covid admissions, by comparison, are climbing more slowly. The figures indicate that flu is becoming steadily more prevalent and hospital admissions are now running at a higher rate than in any week during the past four winters.
Admissions are highest among people aged 85 and over at 23.1 per 100,000 people, up week-on-week from 10.7. Figures show a similarly large jump in the rate among children aged four and under, from 8.4 to 20.7.
NHS figures published on Thursday (15 December) show an average of 1,162 flu patients were in England’s hospital beds each day last week, up 63% from 712 the previous week, and 87 flu patients were in critical care beds, up 45% week-on-week. In the same period last winter, just 25 patients a day were in hospital with flu and only one was in critical care.
Health officials are now calling for more people to get vaccinated against flu as uptake is well below levels in previous winters. Just 37.4% of two-year-olds have received a flu jab so far, and only 39.5% of three-year-olds. All children aged two and three are eligible for a flu nasal spray vaccine, which is being offered by local GPs.
Around 33 million people are eligible for a free flu jab in England this year, including:
- everyone aged 50 and over
- all primary-age children
- some secondary-age children
- pregnant women
- people in care homes
- frontline health and social care staff
- people aged six to 49 with a specified health condition
- household contacts of people with weakened immune systems
Dr Conall Watson, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist, said: “Flu is now circulating widely and we have seen a sharp rise in the rate of hospitalisations for flu this week, particularly among the under-fives and over-85s. Admissions are now at the highest point since the 2017/18 season and we are expecting case numbers to continue increasing as we move further into winter.
“The flu vaccine offers the best protection against severe illness and it’s not too late for everyone eligible to get it. Uptake is particularly low in those aged two and three, so if your child is eligible please take up the offer.”
Symptoms to look for
Flu symptoms tend to come on very quickly and typically include a sudden high temperature, an aching body and feeling exhausted. The NHS says other signs to look for include:
- a dry cough
- a sore throat
- a headache
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- diarrhoea or tummy pain
- feeling sick and being sick
Flu symptoms are very similar to a common cold, but flu tends to be more severe and will come on more rapidly and it will usually affect more than just your nose and throat.
The NHS recommends getting plenty of rest, taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and help ease aches and pains, and drinking plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated.