Five flu deaths reported
3rd January 2012 - The last week of 2012 saw five deaths from confirmed cases of flu in intensive care units. There were 40 more flu-related admissions to intensive care across the UK.
Meanwhile, another winter bug, norovirus has continued to make thousands more people unwell.
Flu in numbers
The latest weekly flu statistics from the Health Protection Agency describe the number of people seeing GPs for flu symptoms as 'low'. In England the consultation rate was 32.7 for every 100,000 people. There was a rise in calls to NHS Direct about colds and flu.
The figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland were higher at 37.1 and 43.7 per 100,000 people. In Wales the number was just 3.4 per 100,000.
12 acute respiratory disease outbreaks were reported. Seven were in care homes, three in schools and two in hospitals. Two of the cases were traced to strains of flu and a third to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Caution over flu figures
Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory disease department at the HPA says in a statement: "Over the Christmas period we have seen a slight rise in flu activity across several of our indicators in line with the trend we expect to see at this time of year.
"However, the latest data should be interpreted with caution due to GP practices being closed on the bank holidays which may have impacted on GP consultation rates."
Towards the end of 2012, flu jab statistics show 71.7% of people in England aged 65 years and over had received the flu vaccine. In under 65s in at risk groups, such as people with diabetes, uptake was 48.3%. The figure for pregnant women was 39.6%.
"It is vital that those who are most 'at risk' from flu make sure they receive their vaccination as this is the most effective way of preventing them from becoming ill with the virus," Professor Watson says.
Earlier this week the HPA said there have been 3,877 laboratory confirmed cases of norovirus this season, 72% higher than the number of cases reported at this point last year. Norovirus symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea. It is also known as the winter vomiting bug.
The HPA says the Christmas and New Year period usually sees a fall in the number of laboratory reports. However, it expects norovirus cases to rise again over the coming weeks.
Norovirus is caught by touching contaminated surfaces or objects, contact with an infected person, or by eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
At the end of 2012, 2,056 hospital beds in England were closed due to diarrhoea and vomiting or norovirus-like symptoms
HPA norovirus expert John Harris says in a statement: "Norovirus is very contagious, and anyone who has had it knows it is very unpleasant. If you think you may have the illness then it is important to maintain good hand hygiene to help prevent it spreading. We also advise that people stay away from hospitals, schools and care homes as these environments are particularly prone to outbreaks."
The norovirus outbreak has also led to a shortage of O-negative blood supplies. There was a 50% increase in O-neg donors cancelling their appointments before the New Year.
The NHS is appealing for people who are O Rh negative (O-) to come forward to give blood to replenish stocks.