UK Faces ‘Quite Significant Flu Epidemic’ Later In The Year

Flu season

A ‘significant’ outbreak of flu could sweep the country near the end of the year, according to Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the architect’s of the UK’s first Covid lockdown

Ferguson, best known as ‘professor lockdown’, warns that sustained restrictions will have inadvertently weakened people’s immune systems.

But never fear, health secretary Matt Hancock has pledged a significant flu vaccination drive this winter to deal with the anticipated rise in infections!!

Metro reports: After more than a year of keeping our distance from people and spending more time at home, far fewer of us will have been exposed to illnesses, meaning we won’t have had the chance to build up flu antibodies.

The Imperial College London professor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Certainly seasonal influenza is likely to be a significant issue coming into the autumn and winter because all the measures we adopted against Covid around the world drove flu to very low levels and as you say, nobody got infected basically with flu last year and so immunity has dropped a little.

‘We can counter that with seasonal flu shots which will be rolled out in the autumn, but I think we do need to be prepared for potentially quite a significant flu epidemic probably late this year, early next year.’

Writing for iNews, Dr Eleanor Gaunt, Research Fellow at the Roslin Institute, said a subset of the population is exposed to a ‘range of respiratory viruses’ every year.

She said this allows them to build a base immunity, and while people can still be re-infected, it reduced the risk of serious illness.

But Dr Gaunt warned: ‘However, over the past year, we have not experienced our usual set of exposures to respiratory viruses, and therefore we’ve missed out on our annual immunity “top-ups”.

‘Our lack of immunity could mean that more people will become infected and we may see an increase in numbers requiring hospitalisation.’

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged a significant flu vaccination drive this winter to deal with the anticipated rise in infections.

This winter is expected to be particularly tough, with health experts warning that respiratory illness and a potential further surge of Covid-19 could derail plans to deal with an NHS backlog.

A survey of trust leaders in England by NHS Providers found that 78% are extremely or moderately concerned about the operational pressures their trust will face this winter.

Some said the squeeze will depend on how much flu and Covid-19 is circulating, while others said they were already seeing an increase in demand for urgent and emergency care.

Around 88% said it was likely that another surge in Covid-19 cases in this financial year will result in extra pressure.

The chief operating officer of a community trust in the South East told NHS Providers: ‘I am worried that we will have a difficult flu season and we will have a run on the beds.

‘This will destabilise the elective (planned treatments) recovery which will be very concerning given the length of time patients have already waited.’

Deputy chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: ‘Our survey reveals the sheer scale of the challenge facing trusts right now.