One in five people here has been struck with flu over the Christmas holidays — with Northern Ireland reporting higher rates than anywhere else in the UK.
Health experts yesterday said approximately 19,700 people per 100,000 reported flu-like symptoms last week — almost double the number of reported cases in London.
And those men currently coughing and sneezing throughout the province have been dealt another blow with scientists claiming there is no evidence to suggest man-flu exists.
The findings feature in a report produced by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine which is currently conducting the Flusurvey across the UK.
Dr Alma Adler, Research Fellow, who is running the project, said: “The data are very preliminary and flu levels are still very low but overall the results suggest that the region most affected by flu is Northern Ireland with 19,700 per 100,000.”
The scientists say there is no explanation for Northern Ireland topping the chart.
Last week the highest rates of flu were reported in the 0-18 age group, although the researchers running flusurvey.org.uk pointed out this category had the lowest sample size of all the age groups (14%). Flusurvey researcher, Professor John Edmunds, said: “Over Christmas we may be more sociable than normal with drinks after work and parties but it’s difficult to say if this increases our risk of flu or not.’’
The survey found there was no difference between the health of men and women with cold and flu symptoms.
Dr Adler said: “The data are very preliminary and flu levels are still very low but overall the results suggest that contrary to what we expected to find, there is no such thing as man flu.
“The next step is to find out if there is a difference in perceived cause of illness — do men and women report this differently?
“For example, are men more likely to claim they have flu when they actually do not have symptoms consistent with flu?”
More than 4,000 people have signed up to the online health monitoring project since it was launched a month ago but the researchers are appealing for more participants, particularly from Northern Ireland where sign-up rates have been the lowest of anywhere.
How the figures break down throughout the UK:
Northern Ireland: 19,700 per 100,000
Northeast England: 19,200 per 100,000
Northwest England: 15,400 per 100,000
Wales: 14,900 per 100,000
Scotland: 14,100 per 100,000
West Midlands: 12,400 per 100,000
London: 10,200 per 100,000