Will there be a flu epidemic this year?

The flu season is almost upon us here in the Northern hemisphere. Influenza (flu) is unpredictable and can be severe, sometimes lethal, and that’s just the regular flu not to mention swine flu or avian influenza.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (commonly known as the CDC):

  • In the United States between 5% and 20% of the population gets the flu each season
  • It is estimated that more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized from flu-related complications on average each season, including 20,000 children younger than 5 years old
  • CDC estimates that flu-associated deaths in the U.S. ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people between 1976 and 2006.
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The UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) has plenty to say on seasonal influenza. It points out that the Centre for Infections (CfI) carries out laboratory tests to identify which strains of flu are in circulation, coordinates information at the UK level and communicates this information to other health professionals and to the public. The WHO (World Health Organization) meanwhile currently has recommendations for which viruses should be used to create the seasonal flu vaccines for 2010.

So, will there be a flu epidemic this year? There will undoubtedly be many outbreaks of flu. Signs are that there are spates of avian influenza in Egypt, and some signs of swine flu, but there will without doubt be human flu this northern winter. Of course, in the Southern hemisphere there have been numerous cases of H1N1 swine flu. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health reported on 23rd: “There have been 702 hospitalisations of laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 so far this year, including 104 people with confirmed H1N1 admitted in intensive care” and the Australians have reported deaths from the disease.

Regardless, on 10 August 2010, the¬†World Health Organization¬†declared that the H1N1 influenza pandemic was officially over. We have now entered the post-pandemic period. If that’s the case then why are UK doctors advising their patients to have both the H1N1 vaccine and the regular human flu vaccine this year?

There was evidence published in August that the regular flu vaccine reduces heart attack risk but the swine flu jab has been linked to very rare cases of narcolepsy, although of 5.5million vaccinations against H1N1 in the UK there have been no reports of narcolepsy.