FLU deaths in Scotland hit their highest level in more than 20 years amid a dramatic resurgence in the virus following two winters in lockdown.

National Records of Scotland said it had registered 121 flu deaths last week, up from 91 in the previous week.

A surge in respiratory illnesses, including Covid, on top of A&E gridlock and other NHS pressures, have been blamed for a spike in excess deaths which returned to numbers last seen at the height of the pandemic in April 2020.

It also comes as new research warns that hundreds of Scots will suffer avoidable heart attacks and strokes as a result of a slump in new blood pressure prescriptions during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Steep fall in the number of people in hospital with flu 

Pete Whitehouse, director of statistical services at NRS, said: “Deaths involving influenza have risen in recent weeks.

“There were 121 deaths where influenza was mentioned on the death certificate in week two of this year, up from 91 in the previous week. This is the highest weekly number of flu deaths registered in over 20 years.”

The surge in influenza this winter follows two years when the virus virtually disappeared due to measures such as social distancing, travel restrictions, and masks.

HeraldScotland:

HeraldScotland: Flu incidence (top) and hospital admissions for patients testing positive for flu soared during December but have been falling steeply since ChristmasFlu incidence (top) and hospital admissions for patients testing positive for flu soared during December but have been falling steeply since Christmas (Image: PHS)

Infections peaked in the week running up to Christmas when the number of people in hospital with the virus reached 1,450 - the highest in at least seven years.

By the first week in January, patient numbers had fallen to 720 and surveillance indicates that flu in the community is now “moderate”.

However, deaths are a lag indicator.

Gillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, said the figures were “sobering” but reflected the fact that there had been “so much flu” in circulation.

She added: “It’s on the back of an extraordinary surge of flu incidents in the December period.

“Thankfully incidents of flu have come down. It’s now at moderate levels in Scotland which is very welcome. But we are seeing the effect of that surge translate now into deaths.”

READ MORE: Excess deaths are among the highest in 50 years - so how much is down to A&E delays?

In total, NRS registered 2,020 deaths in the week ending January 15 - 450 more than usual for the time of year, a 29 per cent increase.

This is the highest number since 599 excess deaths were recorded at end of April 2020, and in percentage terms the highest increase since October 2021 when there were 32% more deaths than expected.

HeraldScotland: Excess deaths in Scotland reached their highest level since 2020 (red dotted line reflects provisional figures to Public Health Scotland, with a projected decline)Excess deaths in Scotland reached their highest level since 2020 (red dotted line reflects provisional figures to Public Health Scotland, with a projected decline) (Image: PHS)

Respiratory illnesses - including Covid - were directly responsible for around 469 (23%) of the 2,020 deaths registered last week. 

Cancer was to blame for 429; dementia/Alzheimer's disease for 219; circulatory causes such as heart attacks and strokes for 450; and 'other' causes for 453 deaths.