Leading article: Too soon to throw away the Lemsip

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The Independent Online

It might seem hard to credit, given the various winter bugs that have laid many of us low over the past few weeks. But – the vagaries of anecdotal evidence aside – statistics for the whole country show that seasonal flu is at its lowest recorded level.

It seems that the virulent H1N1 "swine flu" strain behind the 2009 pandemic has almost disappeared, ceding dominance to the less vicious H3N2 variant. After two bad years in succession, it is a welcome reprieve. Even better is that, notwithstanding the odd pandemic, this year's relatively flu-free winter is part of a trend spanning more than four decades. More hand-washing, cleaner air and better self-medication have all played a part. As has the national vaccination programme for elderly people and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes.

Fewer cases of flu is certainly good news: for the people who avoid the cramps and the chills, for the NHS that does not have to treat them, and for the economy that does not miss their labour.

A word of warning, however. Long-term disease cycles are barely understood. And flu, in particular, is notoriously unpredictable. So this year's low might yet be followed by another spike, maybe next year, maybe in five years' time. Best hang on to the Lemsip after all.