As the holiday period ends with the highest flu numbers in Europe, United Kingdom authorities are bracing for a considerable rise in H1N1 flu (swine flu) cases when children go back to school this week. The National Health Service (NHS) and the HPA (Health Protection Agency) are urging parents to be especially vigilant to the threat of flu.
At risk groups can still be vaccinated, health experts reiterated today - it is not too late to receive the jab.
According to Professor John Oxford, St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London Hospital, history has shown that a rise in flu case numbers nearly always coincides with a return to school. The big question this time, with flu rates already extremely high for this time of year, is not whether there will be a surge, but how long it will last.
"This virus is not going to go away next week. Even if it's already peaked, it's still going to be around for the next couple of weeks and it's still worthwhile being vaccinated at this stage."
Any child who develops flu-like symptoms should be kept away from school, British experts are urging parents and guardians.
Several sources say the current flu epidemic in the UK has not yet peaked, even though enormous numbers of children have become infected. The H1N1 flu virus (swine flu), like all H1 viruses, spreads rapidly among children.
British media are reporting today that the NHS is struggling to cope as vacant intensive care beds for children become extremely scarce. The Daily Mirror reports that swine flu among children has reached epidemic levels. Reports have come in all over the country of ambulances desperately trying to seek out hospitals with available beds for seriously ill infants - some ambulances had to travel over 100 miles to find a bed.
England has 28 dedicated pediatric intensive car units, which are reportedly "not coping" with the numbers of patients.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the UK government is facing serious criticism for not preparing itself properly enough for a flu epidemic.
738 patients with flu are currently reported to be in intensive care, 17 of whom require life support because their lungs and heart have failed.
Of the 39 people who have died of flu so far, 36 were infected with the H1N1 swine flu virus.