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LONDON (Reuters) - The number of deaths in a seasonal flu epidemic in Britain has more than doubled in the past week to 254, up from 112 last week, figures from the government's Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed on Thursday.
Officials said that despite the rising death toll, which jumped partly because of a backlog of unconfirmed data from the recent holiday period, surveillance data suggested that flu activity across the country was now waning.
"Our latest flu report suggests levels of flu are declining ...but nonetheless flu is still circulating in the community and the message remains that people in an at-risk group should get the seasonal flu vaccine," said John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA.
Of the 254 confirmed deaths to date, officials said full information was available on 214 patients. Of these, 195 had died with the H1N1 flu strain that spread around the world as a pandemic in 2009 and 2010.
Information on age was available on 210 deaths cases, the HPA said, and showed that majority were people under 65 years old. Since October 2010, when Britain's flu season began, there have been seven deaths in children aged under five.
European Union health experts have said other European countries should see the severe flu hitting Britain as a warning of what might be coming to them soon.
The H1N1 strain is among the seasonal flu vaccines being offered across the world this year after the World Health Organization advised it was likely to be the most dominant strain of the northern hemisphere's 2010/2011 flu season.
Flu vaccines are made by several drugmakers, including Britain's GlaxoSmithKline, France's Sanofi-Aventis and the Swiss firm Novartis.
Britain's HPA said that where information was available on the fatal cases, 128 out of 159, or 81 percent, of those who died were in a clinical "at risk" group for vaccination. Figures also showed that among 71 cases in which vaccination status was known, 83 percent had not received a flu shot this season.
Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Steve Addison