Flu scientists get colds too!

Washing hands can help prevent us catching the influenza virus. Image by Christian Hartmann.

Washing hands can help prevent us catching the influenza virus. Image by Christian Hartmann.

A few people at work have come down with colds over the last couple of weeks. So far I’ve managed to avoid getting unwell, possibly because my years of working on a hospital ward have left their mark in the form of a reflex washing of my hands whenever I’m near a sink…..

It’s unlikely that many (if any) of my colleagues have influenza as the latest HPA surveillance report shows that levels are currently low. Each week the HPA receives samples from around the country which they then test for respiratory viruses. For the week ending 4 November 2012 only 17 (2.5%) of the 669 the specimens they received were positive for influenza which is still low.

They test these samples for other respiratory viruses and at the moment there are other viruses around such as human metapneumovirus, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza and adenovirus.  It’s more likely that one or more of these are cause of the symptoms in my office.

If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about the difference between a cold and the flu then have a look at this interesting video here which also describes how to stop them spreading and when to go and see a doctor.

Our ‘Decipher my data’ results obviously won’t be able to distinguish between these different viruses as we’re not doing any testing of respiratory samples. Instead, we’ll be looking at these national data collected by the HPA to see if there are any correlations between peaks that we spot in our graphs and the national surveillance results. Obviously this requires us to have some data, and it’s great to see that some schools have started uploading their school absence levels. However, we’ll need more than we have at present if we’re going to spot that peak if and when it occurs, so please do start uploading as soon as you can.

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