The annual flu outbreak has come early to Europe with several countries reporting ‘high intensity’ epidemics.
Flu season kicked off in November – one of the earliest since the 2009/2010 flu pandemic. Based on experience of previous years, it would be expected to peak in the coming weeks.
Autumn is usually the best time to be vaccinated but your doctor may still advise you to consider the flu vaccine.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) says major outbreaks can put pressure on health systems.
Older people – one of the major risk groups recommended to have the annual flu vaccine – appear to be badly affected by flu. Since the start of the season, 69% of influenza patients hospitalised in intensive care units were aged 65 years or more (where that information is available).
“People who are recommended to have the influenza vaccine by their national authorities should get vaccinated,” says Mike Catchpole, Chief Scientist at ECDC. “Normally vaccination should be undertaken in the autumn, before the flu season begins in order to maximise benefit, but high risk groups, notably people over 65 years of age, can still benefit from being vaccinated in January and February.”
Flu can be caused by a number of influenza viruses. This year, the dominant strain is known as A(H3N2). In previous years where this strain has dominated, older people have been worst affected resulting in a high number of hospitalised cases and an increase in fatal outcomes in this age group.