Medical information for patients

Influenza: UK epidemic January 2000

13 January 2000

There is currently an epidemic of influenza in the United Kingdom, which is stretching National Health Service resources. The main strain of influenza which has been implicated is type A/(H3N2)-like viruses.

This matches the World Health Organisation recommendations, and is thus already in the current vaccine.

The numbers of people being affected have risen rapidly, and reached the level which is termed an "epidemic" in the second week of January 2000.


The mainstays of treatment are symptomatic, but there are now specific treatments that can influence the outcome, Relenza and amantidine (Lysovir).

It would probably bring the whole healthcare system to a halt if everybody went to their doctor, or worse still, required a visit merely to prescribe one of these. They are likely to shorten the disease by one or two days, although they probably also reduce the severity of the symptoms. They are thus probably best reserved for people most at risk of complications if they catch flu.

At present NHS doctors are discouraged from prescribing zanamivir (Relenza), but amantidine (Lysovir) is much cheaper, and is effective against type A Influenza, which is causing most of the current epidemic.


In general, October is the ideal time for people in the United Kingdom to have the influenza vaccine. If you have not had the vaccine, it is probably worth having it now, while stocks last, especially if you belong to one of the high risk groups.

The vaccine takes at least a couple of weeks to become effective, during which time you may be exposed to, and catch, the virus. It is also worth pointing out that no treatment or medication is without the potential for side effects. Try to check with your doctor's surgery on his or her views, and on vaccine availability, before trying to book an appointment.

If you are in one of the particular risk categories (over 75 or suffering with various chronic conditions) make a note in your diary now to have the vaccine in October this year.

Other people fight off influenza better, but it still makes people very ill, and can kill. In the UK the NHS covers vaccination in the particular groups that are most at risk, but it is possible for others to have the vaccine and pay for it.

In fact many employers provide this as a "perk" for their employees, and it can also prove cost-effective, if it keeps their staff at work during an epidemic. It may be worth discussing influenza vaccination with your doctor before October this year.

Further information

This page was written in January 2000 and is preserved unchanged for reference, except for links which were last corrected as necessary in November 2004.

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