The flu epidemic currently sweeping the UK has had a severe impact on staff within the insurance industry, creating fresh pressures throughout already over-worked departments.

Axa, Norwich Union, and CGU are among the insurers to have been plagued by the bug. Ian Frater of CGU said: "Because we have a nationwide presence, it has had quite a significant effect. But as we collate our information in areas it is difficult to say exactly what the effect has been."

David Ross, a spokesman for Axa, said: "January can be quite a busy time for insurers – lots of post-holiday claims and a popular month for renewals.

"So we have looked at ways of ensuring that business continues to operate smoothly despite any significant numbers being off with the flu. We could ask staff to work more days in a week or to come in at different times of the day and/or weekends. Thus far we have not had to do this to any significant degree but we have recognised that it may be necessary if we are to continue to offer 'business as usual'."

Liz Nicholson of Norwich Union, said: "Most departments know of people who either are off with the flu bug or have suffered over the holiday period. But it is too early to say at the moment exactly how many people have been affected.

Among those affected are Broker Network managing director Grant Ellis – signed off for a fortnight – and the AiiB's communications director Allison Walter. Up to 40% of the Royal London Insurance's Colchester office have also suffered.

Meanwhile, BUPA is co-operating with local NHS trusts to provide beds for some of the thousands of patients struck by the Sydney A flu virus.

The virus has reached almost epidemic levels placing serious strain on NHS hospitals within the NHS.

A BUPA spokeswoman said it had offered to accommodate flu patients from the NHS on a non-profit making basis.