Earlier last month, the NHS sounded the alarm stating that people in the United Kingdom may soon face the harshest flu season in half a century. This news comes after a particular flu strain, called H3N2, caused lots of commotion in Australia during this winter. But despite doing 350 million consultations each year (a 15.4% increase since the year of 2011), GPs in the UK may be too busy to see extra patients when the virus arrives.
So, just how dangerous is this year’s flu expected to be and what can the government do to stop it from becoming an epidemic?
The Devastating Effect the Flu Had on Australia
On the 31 of August, winter was officially over in Australia. But it did not depart empty-handed. By the end of the winter season, there were about 170,000 confirmed influenza cases throughout the continent – 2.5 times more than all confirmed cases in 2016. The flu had taken its worst toll on elderly people over the age of 80 and on children between ages 5 and 9.
The H3N2 strain proved to be tougher to fend off than the government expected. Besides infecting a record number of people, the dreadful virus also claimed the lives of over 70 people on the continent, including that of Jennifer Thew, a medical receptionist and a mother of two. Scientists warn that the UK will be the next country on the flu’s list and call for immediate action.
What the Government Does to Prepare for the Virus
According to Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, the government is doing everything in its power to prepare for the invisible threat. The NHS has promised to free up to 3,000 extra hospital beds in order to avoid last year’s critical situation. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, however, was quick to raise its concern that the current number of medical consultants is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of these extra patients.
The flu situation gets even stickier due to significant problems in the social care system. As a result, over 2,500 hospital beds a day are taken up by patients who are delayed from leaving their medical centres due to paperwork issues. This overcrowding is also caused by the gradual, but steady reduction of social services for home care and other funding by 11% in just 5 years.
Will This Year’s Vaccine Be Enough to Curb the Flu?
Scientists state that such virus outbreaks are not anything new. In fact, influenza viruses tend to spread globally once every 10 to 15 years. What is more disconcerting to doctors worldwide is the so-called viral drift – a state in which the flu strain mutates to eventually become immune to the vaccine. So, if a vaccine is used in one country, its efficiency may wane mere months later.
The good news is that millions of children and adults will soon be able to take advantage of free flu jabs, provided by GP surgeries throughout the country in an attempt to soften the blow from the virus. However, vaccines only work against certain flu strains that are expected to circulate throughout the season and even then, the jabs may not be 100% effective at stopping them.
What Can You Do to Avoid Getting Sick This Winter?
In the words of Dr Peter Collignon, a leading infectious diseases expert, “Even 30% or 40% protection against going to hospital is better than nothing.” Thus, despite their somewhat lower efficiency, we still highly recommend that you take a flu shot as soon as you have the opportunity – it’s free and you will decrease your chances of getting sick during the holidays.
Another way you can keep the virus at bay is by maintaining a healthy diet, which unfortunately does not include fast food in any form. Helena Gibson-Moore of the British Nutrition Foundation advises everyone to incorporate “a varied diet including fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, meat, fish pulses, and eggs [which] should contain enough vitamins for [good] health.”
If you’re looking for even more tips to stay healthy this winter, Fantastic Services is here to help you fight the flu bug off. Stay tuned for our upcoming post on the many surprising ways in which you can contract the virus! While you’re waiting for our post to go live, we also highly encourage you to check out our short video on the five things your doctor isn’t telling you about the flu.