YORK has the highest rate of flu in England, according to a national survey.

GP consultations for influenze-like illnesses are described as 'very high' in York - more than any other area - in a report published by Public Health England.

National newspapers have claimed that flu consultations in the city are running at 104.4 per 100,000 people, not far short of a level of 108.9 per 100,000 which would signal an epidemic and which compares with a national average of 34.9.

However, Public Health England has urged caution over the figures, which it said came from an on-line flu survey set up during the swine flu pandemic in 2009 as an indicator of flu activity in the community.

"Around 7,500 people around the country are currently registered with the survey and, during the winter, they voluntarily report if they have had flu-like symptoms during the previous week," said a spokeswoman.

"This means numbers of participants at a local level will be small and figures should thus be interpreted with caution.

"It is just one of a range of indicators which PHE flu surveillance considers when looking at the position across the country each week."

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director with Public Health England, said its data showed that more people were visiting GPs with flu symptoms and more people were being admitted to hospitals with the flu.

"We are currently seeing a mix of flu types, including the A(H3N2) strain that circulated last winter in the UK and then in Australia," he said.

"The A(H3N2) strain particularly affects older, more vulnerable age groups. We encourage anyone who is eligible to take up their offer of the flu vaccine – it is not too late. 

"People suffering with flu-like symptoms should catch coughs or sneezes in tissues and bin them immediately, wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water and frequently clean regularly used surfaces to stop the spread of flu. 

"Avoid having unnecessary contact with other people if you or they have symptoms of flu.”