Medical academics are adding their weight to a national campaign urging "high risk" individuals to be vaccinated against flu as soon as possible.
John Oxford, professor of virology at the London Hospital Medical College, and a member of the Association for Influenza Monitoring and Surveillance scientific advisory board, said: "An influenza outbreak is inevitable every winter. However, the size of the outbreak is unpredictable. To be on the safe side, anyone in the 'high risk' groups should be vaccinated to protect them against the prevalent flu strains for this season."
There has already been an outbreak in a school in the Midlands, Professor Oxford said. The virus causing it had been found to match a virus in the vaccine, which is good news.
The flu virus is highly changeable, and the vaccine needs to be updated every year, he said. Academic research was always needed to determine how quickly the structure of the virus was changing.
High-risk patients include those with asthma and bronchitis, chronic heart disease, kidney failure and immunosuppression due to disease or treatment. Elderly people with these conditions are particularly at risk, and those in residential or nursing homes, where infection could spread rapidly, should also be vaccinated.
Jon Van-Tam, lecturer in public health medicine and epidemiology at the University Hospital Nottingham, is co-author of a recent study in The Lancet showing that flu deaths may be reduced by up to 75 per cent with repeated annual vaccinations.