Flu cases up by 83 per cent in a week

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THE NUMBER of people with flu rose by 83 per cent last week, piling pressure on hospitals and causing misery to thousands. Doctors said all intensive-care beds were full, as casualty units and ambulance services braced themselves for more admissions.

Around 97,000 people in England and Wales have flu, compared with 53,000 in Christmas week, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), which said the rate of infection had risen from 102 cases per 100,000 to 185 cases between Christmas and New Year, with England's central region worst hit.

Douglas Fleming, of the RCGP flu monitoring unit, said the pattern was normal for winter. In the 1989 epidemic, the rate peaked at 580 cases per 100,000 people. But flu usually goes in cycles, peaking after five weeks, meaning the next week will see many more cases.

Like the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary in Derby has had to begin storing bodies in a refrigerated lorry and two mobile fridges after the flu added to soaring death rates. The hospital, which has the only mortuary in the region, received 258 bodies between 21 December and 5 January, compared with 120 in the same period last year. The James Paget hospital in Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, has also had to use a refrigerated lorry as a temporary morgue.

As the bug spread south, Ian Bogle, chairman of the British Medical Association, appealed to the public not to use emergency services for uncomplicated illnesses. "You feel miserable, you feel absolutely wretched with viral illnesses, like flu, but the right place is to go to bed and taken plenty of fluids and something like aspirin and paracetamol."

Llandough Hospital, near Cardiff, was among the latest round of hospitals to cancel non-urgent surgery to provide extra beds for patients with flu and chest infections. Routine operations were also cancelled in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, because of the number of elderly patients with flu had led to a 50 per cent rise in emergency admissions.

Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, defended the Government against accusations that it had failed adequately to prepare for the huge rise in demand on the NHS during the flu outbreak. "You cannot have any contingency which will not leave the system under strain if you get that sort of increase."