Flu has been “almost wiped out” after the number of people being struck down by it dropped to its lowest levels in 130 years, according to reports.
The Sunday Times reported that figures show the number of people being struck down by the bug has dropped by 95%, suggesting it has nearly been eradicated.
The newspaper reported that in the second week of January, the number of flu-like illnesses reported to GPs was just 1.1 per 100,000 compared to a five-year average rate of 27 per 100,000.
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Simon de Lusignan, professor of primary care at the University of Oxford and director of the Royal College of GPs research and surveillance centre, said influenza had now been “almost completely wiped out”.
John McCauley, director of the World Health Organisation's collaborating centre for reference and research on influenza, told the newspaper: “The last time we had evidence of such low rates was when we were still just counting influenza deaths, and that was in 1888, before the 1889-90 flu pandemic.”
Experts told the newspaper that the coronavirus pandemic could have contributed to plummeting levels of flu cases with improved hygiene and measures taken to combat the COVID crisis helping limit the spread of flu.
Last summer, the government urged as many people as possible to get a flu jab to reduce the strain on the NHS when coronavirus peaked again in the winter.
In December the free flu vaccine programme was extended to people over the age of 50 as part of an expanded jab rollout in the face of the “twin threats” of flu and coronavirus.
It came after the government announced that the winter would see the biggest flu vaccination programme in the UK’s history, with enough supply to vaccinate 30 million people throughout the flu season.
Last week NHS England’s chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said he hoped to see the COVID-19 vaccine combined with the flu jab in the future.
Sir Simon told the Health and Social Care Committee: “it would be great if the COVID vaccine and flu vaccine ends up being combined into a single vaccine, which we might see if not this winter but future winters as well”.
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