Cold and Flu
1 March 2018 -
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The UK Flu Epidemic – The Three Strains
Although many people will complain that they have ‘the flu’ in winter, they often have nothing more than a common cold. Yes, both are respiratory diseases, but their symptoms differ greatly. Influenza has a quick onset, is often associated with chills and fevers and also frequently leads to headaches. Without these symptoms, a patient probably has a cold.
This winter, the UK has faced the usual round of cold viruses. However, there has also been a widely reported an outbreak of flu in the country, something that has placed an undoubted strain on British healthcare services.
Three separate Flu viruses to know about?
According to some reports, death rates from flu have been three times their usual level and the epidemic has put GPs under the most stress as they attempt to combat the problem in the population. What you may not be aware of is that the so-called flu epidemic is, in fact, made up of a three-pronged attack. Three separate flu viruses have caused the problem to reach such severe levels. In this blog, we’ll examine each of the flu strains more closely, focus on their differences and similarities as well as gaining a better understanding of how each has contributed to the epidemic.
Like all strains of influenza, Australian flu is a virus which can be passed on from person to person. In the case of so-called Australian flu, the name of the virus is H3N2. The virus is not from Australia, surprisingly, but got its name because it became the dominant form of the disease in that country. Since it has spread to North America and the UK, people tend to refer to it as Australian flu. Although the H3N2 virus has caused significant problems among the UK’s population in the winter of 2017-18, it is fair to say that the worst of the problem appears to be fading. According to Public Health England (PHE), the start of February saw a reduction of admissions to hospital for this sort of flu. Nevertheless, PHE has stated that H3N2 continues to be among the commonest flu strains that health professionals see, just as it was when it first came on the scene in 2016-17.
According to the NHS’ press announcements, the H3N2 virus had accounted for around 120 deaths in the UK from October 2017 to the end of the following January. The strain was said to be of particular concern when it was contracted by pregnant women, children and elderly folk. In mid-January, Welsh GPs reported that cases of so-called Australian flu had doubled within just one week. The NHS recommended that anyone in the at-risk groups should seek access to a public health vaccination programme. Australian flu exhibits the same symptoms as other strains, but can also include an earache as well as a high temperature that can reach in excess of 38C.
Avian flu, commonly called bird flu, has three different strains. According to the NHS, these are H5N1, H7N9 and H5N6. The problem impacts on birds, especially domestically reared fowl, such as ducks and chickens. The problem is that it can transfer to humans, in some cases. Bird flu has all the same symptoms of other forms of the disease but it is distinguished by diarrhoea and vomiting in its early stages, too. When someone is diagnosed with avian flu, they can be treated with antiviral medication, such as oseltamivir or zanamivir.
Although bird flu has been known about and monitored in the UK for years, especially among farming communities, outbreaks continue to occur. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced in 2018 that H5N6 had been detected in two wild birds, one in Dorset and one in Warwickshire.
An avian influenza prevention zone was set up in January throughout the country which included a number of biosecurity measures that keepers of fowl must follow. Although the UK’s authorities continue to keep a tight grip on avian flu, the country’s Food Standards Agency has stated that the disease poses no known risk to the consumer food chain.
Also known as influenza B, Japanese flu hit the headlines this winter because a widespread vaccination programme was not run against it this year, unlike other strains. PHE reported in January that cases of the disease had risen greatly in the early New Year. The city of York was a centre of the epidemic along with areas such as Herefordshire and North Somerset.
Japanese flu has been around for a number of years, but the winter of 2017-18 was said to be the worse for some time. Nevertheless, a Japanese pharmaceutical research company has announced that it has developed an experimental treatment for influenza B which could mean the virus is much less prevalent in the UK in coming years.
Source: cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.ht, Gov.uk, NHS,Sciencealert.com
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Last updated on March 1, 2018.