WITH reports of the NHS in crisis, five hour waits in A&E and “a killer virus from Australia hitting our shores”, you might not be blamed for thinking that we are on the brink of an apocalypse and now might just be the time to retreat to the safety of an underground bunker.

In the last few weeks, the number of hospital admissions with flu has tripled, and sadly there have been more than 140 deaths reported so far.

The strain, H3N2, has been dubbed “Aussie flu” as it is similar to that which hit Australia six months ago during their winter season.

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However, H3N2 itself is not new; it is that which caused the 1968 outbreak in Hong Kong, and has been circulating ever since. Indeed the same strain was implicated in last year’s flu outbreak.

For the majority of people the effects of flu are simple and thankfully short-lived. Symptoms are those of any viral infection, with raised temperature, sore throat, cough and muscle aches and pains. Sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea are part of the picture.

However, in the majority of fit and healthy individuals, the illness will resolve of its own accord, in around seven to ten days, although you may feel very ill during this time, and it would not be unusual for most of that to be spent in bed recuperating.

THE concern is more for those at the extremes of age, or with underlying illnesses that make them more susceptible to complications which can range from pneumonia through to meningitis. Although aspects of healthcare including sanitation and vaccination have improved in the last 100 years, living longer means we have a larger elderly population who are more at risk. Equally poor lifestyle choices and the rise of obesity with all its associated comorbidities results in a group of individuals who are more likely to suffer complications of otherwise simple illnesses.

Public Health England and the Royal College of General Practitioners are united in their simple, concise advice. Despite being in the midst of the flu season, if you are without symptoms, eligible and have not yet had the jab; aim to get immunised now.

The current UK vaccine was developed in March of this year – Australia’s winter season – as soon as the virus was identified. Although H3N2 has mutated to some degree since then, the vaccine is still effective against 40-60 per cent of cases and if you are still unlucky enough to succumb to it, hopefully your symptoms will be milder and shorter-lived.

As always, remember the basics; catch any sneeze in a tissue, dispose of it and then wash your hands. This simple message has been made into the NHS “Catch it, Kill it, Bin it” campaign. If your symptoms last more than seven to ten days and you aren’t showing signs of improvement, please consult a medical profession to assess your individual case.