Flu

Flu is a respiratory illness, affecting the lungs and airways, and is the result of an infection caused by an influenza virus. Most serious illness is seen in very young babies, pregnant women, older people and those with long term health conditions.

It circulates in Wales mostly during the winter months each year. There are often slight changes to the flu virus each year which means that annual vaccination is needed for best protection.

About flu

The symptoms of flu, usually come on suddenly, and include fever, chills, headache, cough, body aches and fatigue.

Influenza is highly infectious with a usual incubation period of one to three days.

Flu viruses are spread in the small droplets of saliva coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. Direct contact with hands contaminated with the virus can also spread infection.

Anyone can get flu and the flu virus is easily passed from person to person. Flu can spread rapidly especially in closed communities such as residential homes.

Most people who are fit and well recover fully from a bout of flu, but it can be serious and  complications can occur particularly in the very young, the elderly, those who are pregnant, and people with certain medical conditions. Every year people in Wales end up in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) with flu. Flu can result in serious illness or even death..

Flu vaccination

The most effective method of controlling influenza is by maintaining high levels of immunisation among vulnerable groups or whole populations.

The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn. Most people get their flu vaccine at the GP surgery or a local pharmacy, and primary school children get their flu vaccine in school.

A vaccine is developed for each season which is offered free to some children, everyone aged 65 and over, people in certain 'at-risk' groups who are more likely to develop complications as a result of having flu and also those who look after people at increased risk.

To find out if you're eligible, visit the Beat Flu web pages or get in touch with your GP surgery.

Our role

Public Health Wales leads the national flu campaign in Wales, working closely with health boards and trusts to deliver a strong public health campaign, undertaking enhanced influenza surveillance during the flu season and data collected is compiled into weekly influenza reports. This information is used to aid decision-making with regard to the use of antivirals and enables predictions on hospital emergency bed requirements to be made.

Public Health Wales support Welsh Government in setting a strategic direction for immunisation services, support health boards in managing local services and achieving targets, and support them delivering services. We also identify and follow up local cases and outbreaks of influenza to prevent spread of the disease amongst vulnerable people.

Treatment

For people who are generally fit and healthy, flu is a self limiting illness and symptoms can be treated at home using remedies commonly available from your community pharmacy.

Medical advice should be sought if symptoms become severe or last longer than a week.

Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat any secondary bacterial infections that may develop, but these are ineffective against the flu virus itself.

People in groups most at risk of complications should seek may require medical advice earlier as they are at increased risk and may be very unwell. GPs may prescribed antiviral medications such as Zanamivir and Oseltamivir. These medicines may be prescribed by the general practice to such patients for both the treatment and prevention of flu, following the guidelines produced by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The full NICE guidance on the use of antiviral medicines can be accessed at:

Data

The number of cases of flu varies from year-to-year depending on the types of flu virus in circulation, and the uptake and effectiveness of the flu vaccines. In most years, the number of cases of flu peaks between December and March.

Flu activity is measured on the basis of the number of people for every 100,000 population who consult their GP with flu-like illness each week. In Wales this is measured using a network of Welsh volunteer ‘sentinel’ network GP practices

Throughout the year, Public Health Wales publishes a weekly flu report for Wales. This is available from the Public Health Wales Health Protection Division website from the link: Seasonal influenza surveillance data for Wales.

Throughout the year, Public Health Wales publishes a weekly flu report for Wales which is available from the Public Health Wales Health Protection Division website from the link: Seasonal influenza surveillance data for Wales

The number of cases of flu varies from year-to-year depending on the types of flu virus in circulation, and the uptake and effectiveness of the flu vaccines. In most years, the number of cases of flu peaks between December and March.

Flu activity is measured on the basis of the number of people for every 100,000 population who consult their GP with flu-like illness each week.

This is measured using a network of Welsh volunteer ‘sentinel’ network GP practices.

More information

More information about seasonal flu is available from NHS Direct Wales and Influenza: The Green book, chapter 19.