Some time has passed since the country had a really bad bout of flu and there are predictions that another is on its way.
Worse than the bird flu outbreak of 2008, the culprit seems to be Japanese Flu, coming after the so-called Aussie Killer Flu. Should we be worried?
Well, yes, because two and a half times more people died than usual in the recent Australian flu season. The particular virus involved is the influenza A strain known as H3N2.
This is a mutated version of what is in the Australian flu jab so inoculations have been less effective than hoped.
Flu is a serious disease. It kills 12,500 Britons aged over 65 every year.
One of our problems is that the flu jab may not be as effective as we would like it to be.
The reasons for this include the natural decline in our immune system as we grow older and the fact that some people don’t have their annual flu jab because they believe it causes the flu (it can’t).
This year there has been criticism after GPs were asked to use a cheaper flu jab which covers fewer variants of the flu virus, so it’s less effective than the strong vaccine.
A mismatch between the flu vaccine chosen and the circulating flu strain in the environment is a third reason.
Because of the lead time we can never be certain that the strain of the flu virus in the jab will be the same as the one in circulation the following winter.
It may have mutated. We need better and stronger vaccines and we have them ready for use this year. They’re called ‘adjuvant’ vaccines.
They’re more effective in people aged 65 and over compared to influenza vaccines currently used in the UK.
An adjuvant vaccine contains an extra ingredient that signals the body to produce more flu-specific antibodies to help prevent infection and illness.
These have actually been available in other countries, including the US, Canada, Italy, Germany, Spain and Australia, for many years (in some cases for over 20 years).
This vaccine is called Fluad and is available for GPs to order now for the 2018-19 season for people over 65.
Its use has become crucially important because the doomsayers are probably correct – we are overdue a bad flu season.
2009 was the last bad one. Given the state of our NHS services at the moment, being consistently stretched way past capacity with A&Es bursting at the seams, a serious flu epidemic would bring it to its knees.
The only way to avoid catastrophe is if GPs pre-order the adjuvant vaccine for their patients for next season.
Let’s hope they will.