The number of people in hospital with flu has soared by 50 per cent in the last week, figures from Public Health England have revealed.
GPs recorded a 78 per cent hike in seasonal flu cases in the first week of January while the number of patients admitted into hospital because of the virus doubled.
Nearly a fifth of all people hospitalised with flu last week had caught the deadly strain known as “Australian flu”, A(H3N2).
The number of people rushed into intensive care after catching flu also shot up by 65 per cent, the PHE stats show.
Medical director of PHE, Professor Paul Cosford, said doctors are seeing “a mix of flu types” as he told people it “is not too late” to get vaccinated.
So far a total of 85 people have died from flu this season, with 27 flu-related deaths in the last week.
Outbreaks of the virus have been seen across Europe, with France, Croatia, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey all reporting a medium intensity.
Dubbed Aussie flu, the A(H3N2) strain got its name after circulating in the UK last winter before spreading to Down Under.
The strain particularly affects older, more vulnerable age groups.
PHE said the main strains currently spreading across the UK are A(H3N2), A(H1N1) and Flu B.
Many of the B flu cases are thought to be a strain of “Japanese” flu called Yamagatu.
In the week leading up to Christmas, 21 out of 25 flu B viruses examined in the UK belonged to Yamagata lineage, Public Health England (PHE) confirmed.
Professor Cosford from PHE said: “Our data shows that more people are visiting GPs with flu symptoms and we are seeing more people admitted to hospitals with the flu.
“We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia.
“We encourage anyone who is eligible to take up their offer of the flu vaccine – it is not too late. People suffering with flu-like symptoms should catch coughs or sneezes in tissues and bin them immediately, wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water and frequently clean regularly used surfaces to stop the spread of flu. Avoid having unnecessary contact with other people if you or they have symptoms of flu.”
Along with the Department of Health, PHE has launched a new “Catch It, Bin It, Kill It” campaign urging people to wash their hands regularly as the flu virus can live for many hours on hard surfaces.
Seasonal flu usually circulates for several weeks each year.
The so-called “intensity of circulation” depends upon the underlying population immunity, the viruses and external factors such as the weather. It is an unpredictable virus and it is not possible to anticipate how flu levels will progress, PHE said.