Seasonal flu affects millions of people every year. The Flusurvey is being used to monitor flu across Britain, and to flag up severity and trends early in the season. It could also provide early indications of flu vaccine uptake and effectiveness, and whether the Government’s decision not to run a national advertising campaign in England has had any impact.
The Flusurvey – launching today for the 2011-12 season – is the brainchild of scientists John Edmunds, Ken Eames and Sebastian Funk, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Latest box office hit “Contagion” tells of a deadly virus that spreads like wildfire and causes widespread chaos as society breaks down. Seasonal flu might not be as dangerous as the fictional virus depicted in “Contagion”, but how can we know how bad the next flu strain will be and how would we cope with an unexpectedly virulent outbreak? Surveillance is the key.
“Being able to detect a flu epidemic before hospitals and GPs are snowed under with patients is vital,” says Professor Edmunds. “We set up the Flusurvey (flusurvey.org.uk) to allow the public to report their illness directly. Anyone can take part, just log on and do your bit to help us deal with the next epidemic.”
In previous years, the voluntary online survey has attracted up to 5,000 participants. This year, the researchers hope that they can top this number.
Dr Eames says: “The more people who join the better. Being part of the Flusurvey just takes a couple of minutes each week. We’re looking for thousands of volunteers to take up this opportunity to join in with an exciting scientific project to aid health research.”
A standard online questionnaire agreed and translated in the relevant languages will now make it possible to compare the data collected in 10 participating countries. Thanks to a set of interactive maps, everyone can see how the infection is spreading in the UK and Europe.
Dr Funk says: “We have never been able to do this before. Each country measures flu in a different way. Now, for the first time, we will be able to compare cases across the continent as flu spreads through Europe. This provides a fascinating opportunity to understand the dynamics of seasonal flu on a large scale.”
Each week, participants report any flu-like symptoms they have experienced since their last visit to the website. The Flusurvey data is also supplied to the Health Protection Agency’s national surveillance programmes. This direct information from the public is particularly useful because many people with flu symptoms do not visit a doctor and traditional surveillance methods rely on data from external sources such as GPs or hospitals.
- To take part in the UK Flusurvey go to www.flusurvey.org.uk
- In addition to the UK, comparable flu surveys are being carried out this year in The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.
- The UK Flusurvey is part of the EU FP7-funded integrated project EPIWORK.
- For more information about the HPA, contact the HPA press office at Colindale on 020 8327 7901 or email [email protected]. Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 020 8200 4400.