A major upsurge of flu-like symptoms has prompted fears that they may herald the worst outbreak for nine years, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has warned.
In one week, family doctors have seen 69 people with symptoms for every 100,000 of the population, a 73% increase over the 40 per 100,000 of the previous seven days.
An even bigger increase – 151%, from 18 cases per 100,000 to 45 – has been seen in the 65-plus age group. Rates have increased in all regions of the country.
The number of people seeing their doctors was highest in the 15 to 44 age group (80 per 100,000), up 47% on the previous week. The next largest group, aged 45 to 64 (76 per 100,000), saw an increase of 122%.
There was a 64% rise in the five to 14 age group to 50 per 100,000, and a slightly smaller increase of 61% for children aged four and below (to 57 per 100,000).
Douglas Fleming, a director at the RCGP's Birmingham Research Unit, said: "The recent increase is suggestive of an influenza outbreak greater than any seen in the last eight years."
Professor David Salisbury, the Department of Health's director of immunisation, said: "Flu has started earlier this year than last year."