By Rachel Kayani
As the flu season approaches a new approach to monitoring flu outbreaks has been introduced as part of the annual Flu survey. This winter data from schools is to be used for the first time to help scientists to understand the spread of flu in the community.
Last year saw the highest rates of flu infection recorded in the under-18s, so by including school data in the survey scientists hope to assess exactly what role children play in catching and spreading the illness – and to see if it any measures can be introduced to prevented it.
The Flusurvey surveillance project is in its fifth year, and this is the first time classrooms are being asked to take part. They are keen to monitor flu amongst school children as children are seen as one of the main ‘spreaders’ of flu. It also coincides with the Government’s new flu vaccination programme, which it has started to roll out across the nation.
This flu season the vaccine is being offered to all children aged 2-3 years, as well as children of any age with long-term health conditions such as diabetes. In Scotland and seven pilot areas in England, children aged4 to 11 will also be eligible for it this year. In time, the nasal spray vaccine will be available for children aged 16 and under.
For most people, flu, or influenza, is an unpleasant experience with typical symptoms consisting of fever, headaches, cough, sore throat, aching muscles and joints and lack of energy. Although it can last for several weeks, most people will in time make a recovery. However, for some people, especially the young or elderly and those with other health issues, the flu can be very serious leading to lung infections and pneumonia, requiring hospital treatment and in some cases it can be fatal.
So far this winter, there is no sign that the flu season has begun, data from GPs for flu-like illnesses have so far remained low throughout the UK.