Flu outbreak claims another 12 victims

Twelve more people died from flu last week – all but one under 65, the public health watchdog said.

Figures from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed 39 people have died since October, including 36 from swine flu. Four of the victims were aged under five. The figures come just a day after it was announced that the number of flu cases had risen by more than 40 per cent last week. There has been a general increase across all age ranges apart from among children, with the middle-aged particularly badly hit.

The statistics also showed that of those who died, the majority (61 per cent) were in an at-risk group and all but two had not been vaccinated.

Last week, there were 460 flu victims in intensive care, a figure which has now jumped to 738.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: "We would urge those people in an at-risk group to have their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible.

"Anyone who has symptoms of flu-like illness should get medical advice as soon as possible."

The increase still falls short of epidemic levels, but experts believe the number of children catching flu could increase once schools go back.

A new campaign will launch in the form of national press and radio adverts from Saturday, emphasising the importance of hygiene in preventing the spread of the virus.