When you work in intensive care (ITU) it’s not unusual to have several deaths a year from flu-related illnesses. Patients who arrive in ITU with flu-related illnesses often have a 30% risk of dying.
Dave Hope - Research
This is the stark reality of the power of flu as seen firsthand by Consultant in Critical Care Dave Hope (pictured). He’s spent the last 25 years working in intensive care looking after the most seriously ill patients, many of whom have life-threatening conditions.
Last year, 779 people in Wales were treated in hospital for a flu related illness. Of those, 125 were admitted to intensive care units like the one Dr Hope works in at Morriston Hospital.
Having seen first-hand the life-threatening conditions caused by flu Dr Hope explains what makes flu so dangerous and how having your flu vaccination is the best available protection against flu.
“Serious flu attacks the lungs causing viral pneumonia which in turn can lead to bacterial pneumonia. Patients often arrive in our unit on breathing machines as they are already unable to breathe for themselves. Pneumonia can also lead to other organs failing, such as the heart and kidneys. That can result in people dying.”
Flu is often associated with the lungs and chest but it actually knows no boundaries.
“Flu virus prefers to attack the lungs,” said Dr Hope, “but it can cause infections of the nervous system and gut. Serious influenza infections can also cause temporary paralysis.”
Dr Hope fully supports the flu vaccination as the best way to protect yourself and others from what can be a life-threatening virus.
He said: “Some groups are more at risk then others including those who are obese because they are immune-suppressed and people with existing health conditions such as heart disease and lung disease.
“If you are in a high risk group, getting the flu jab could literally save your life. An attack of the flu may just mean a few days of misery or it could result in weeks in intensive care fighting for your life. We can’t predict who will suffer the worst complications but you can shift the odds in your favour by getting vaccinated.
“The flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective but it is safe and it gives the best protection available.”
Dr Hope also follows his own medical advice and has his flu vaccination every year.
He added: “I always have my flu vaccination and encourage everyone in high-risk groups to have their vaccination.
“Even if you aren’t in a high-risk group you need to think about your role in spreading flu. When you sneeze you transmit about half a million viruses into the air.
“As a healthcare worker it is really important to have your flu vaccination as you’re in a position to easily spread the virus amongst vulnerable patients. Plus a member of staff being off with flu puts additional pressure on remaining staff treating patients. We usually have a big rise in demand for critical care beds during the winter flu months and we need our workforce to be as healthy as possible.”
If you are in one of the following high-risk groups it is very important you have your free NHS flu vaccination as soon as possible. Please contact your GP surgery now to arrange your vaccination. The flu vaccination is safe and provides the best protection against flu.
You can find out more about the flu vaccination at www.abm.wales.nhs.uk/flu
Source: Velindre Cancer Centre