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Keeping fit could cut the risk of catching flu

Monday, 17 March 2014

New preliminary findings from UK Flusurvey released at the start of National Science & Engineering Week.

H1N1 flu virusDoing vigorous exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week reduces your chances of experiencing a flu-like illness by around 10%, according to preliminary results from Flusurvey, the online flu study run by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The latest scientific data on flu is being released at the start of National Science & Engineering Week, which aims to highlight the crucial role science plays in our lives.

More than 4,800 people have participated in this year’s study so far, and these findings suggest that 100 cases of flu per 1,000 people could be prevented just by engaging in vigorous exercise. No differences were found in rates of flu-like illness based on the amount of moderate exercise reported, so it may be that more vigorous exercise is needed to lower your risk.

Other findings from Flusurvey showed some of the lowest reports of flu-like illness in recent times. Over the winter flu season, only 4.7% of reports were positive for flu-like symptoms compared to 6.0% last year.

A further change lies in the fact that children appear to have lower levels of flu-like illness than last year with just 5.0% reporting symptoms this flu season compared to 7.9% in the previous year. As children have been identified as being the biggest spreaders of flu, Flusurvey researchers suggest that the flu season this year may have been curbed by the lack of flu among young people.

Dr Alma Adler, ambassador for National Science & Engineering Week and Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said: “We’re really interested in the preliminary findings around fitness activity and flu-like illness, as exercise is something that everyone can do to reduce your chance of having flu. We need to treat this result cautiously as these are preliminary findings, however they are consistent with findings for other conditions and really show the health benefits of exercise. Although many people have dodged the flu bullet this winter, flu can occur at any time, so taking advantage of the better weather is a great opportunity to get out and get fit to ward off flu this spring.”

The annual UK Flusurvey, now in its fifth year, is an online system for measuring influenza trends and uniquely collects data directly from the public through a weekly online questionnaire at flusurvey.org.uk. The data is supplied to Public Health England’s national flu surveillance programmes, providing data which is missed through current surveillance as many people affected by flu do not visit their doctor or local hospital.

Flusurvey has played a central role in National Science & Engineering Week, which aims to encourage more young people to engage in science. Almost 700 school-age children have participated in the project to track the spread of flu and will be analysing real data during the Week to uncover how the virus spreads and who it affects.

Commenting on the project, Imran Khan, CEO of the British Science Association, said: “If we want to get young people talking about science, we need to show why scientific study today directly impacts on their lives. This project, which involves children reporting and analysing topical data, really brings the issue to life and puts young people right at the heart of cutting-edge research today.”

National Science & Engineering Week takes place from 14-23 March 2014, with galleries, universities, schools and museums around the UK running events to showcase the real life application of science and the critical role it plays.

Image: H1N1 virus. Credit: © iStock/Eraxion

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