Published Fri, 2010-12-31 10:52; updated 2 years ago.

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The number of patients with flu-like illnesses in hospitals in the West Midlands has risen over the past week.

In total 88 patients with suspected or confirmed flu are currently being cared for on critical care units in hospitals across the region, compared to 56 in the week ending Friday, December 24.

Health chiefs are continuing to urge those people most vulnerable to the illness, including pregnant women, to get vaccinated against the virus. 

Dr Rashmi Shukla, regional director of public health in the West Midlands said:  "It’s not too late for those most at risk of infection to protect themselves by having the vaccine.  Today’s figures show that flu can be a severe illness for those most at risk including pregnant women and children with adults with long term conditions."

The advice comes following the death of a woman in her 70s at the Royal Wolverhampton Hospital on Monday. She had an underlying respiratory condition when admitted and was a confirmed case of the H1N1 swine flu strain.

However, health chiefs also warned people with mild symptoms of flu-like illnesses to stay away from hospitals, to avoid the spread of infection further.

The best advice for these people is to stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and take over the counter medicine such as paracetomol or aspirin to relieve symptoms.  If symptoms persist, particularly in patients who are vulnerable to illness, they should seek medical advice.

Cases of flu like illnesses have been increasing steadily over the last few weeks in the West Midlands.  Today’s figures from the HPA suggest that the rise in the region last week was smaller than that seen nationally.

Antiviral medication is now being prescribed by GPs for patients who have not had the vaccination as this can relieve symptoms.

Dr Rashmi Shukla, Regional Director of Public Health in the West Midlands said:  "The seasonal flu jab is safe and effective and offers the best form of protection against the strains of flu circulating this winter, including the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu.  I strongly recommend that everyone at risk, including pregnant women, to be vaccinated against flu as soon as possible by contacting their GP.

"For most people, flu is not life threatening and usually lasts seven to ten days.  However, it can be more dangerous for those in at-risk groups, such as pregnant women, children (over six months) and adults with long term conditions such as cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, and I would strongly recommend that they are vaccinated.

"GPs are prescribing antivirals to patients who have not been vaccinated where there is serious risk of developing complications for flu-like illnesses. "

For people who are otherwise healthy but have flu-like symptoms, access to antivirals can prevent symptoms from becoming worse and may avoid an admission to hospital for those most at risk of illness.

There are simple steps that people can take to stop flu spreading:

  • Always carry tissues
  • Covering your cough and sneeze with a tissue, dispose of it promptly in a bin  ie Catch it, Bin it, Kill it
  • Washing hands often with soap and water and dry thoroughly
  • Reduce contact with people with obvious symptoms of flu
  • Keep children away from school while ill.

Image courtesy of Evah Smit.