With the Christmas period fast approaching, health professionals across Wales are urging all those eligible to have their free flu vaccine as soon as possible, to help them stay flu-free this winter.
Recent figures show that 6 out of 10 people in clinical risk groups in Wales have not yet had their vaccine – a situation that could potentially lead to serious health complications at a time of year when the health service is already under significant pressure.
Although the flu virus is not circulating widely yet in Wales, 17 cases have already been confirmed. With the likelihood of large groups of people meeting up over the Christmas period for parties and family get-togethers, the risk of spreading the virus is even greater.
Flu-its behind you
Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, is urging people to get their free vaccine to protect themselves and others around them this Christmas:
“For most healthy people, influenza (or ‘flu’) is usually an unpleasant illness, which normally means a few miserable days at home in bed.
“However, for those in ‘at risk’ groups flu is much more likely to result in serious complications, and can even be life threatening. Because we haven’t seen a serious outbreak of flu for a few years, people can become complacent and forget how serious flu can be.
“Currently this winter we have only seen low levels of flu but the numbers of cases usually increase between now and Christmas – so there is still time to get your vaccine.”
Older people can be very susceptible to flu and over 60% of those aged 65 and over have taken advantage of the free vaccine which gives them protection over the coming year.
However, just over 40% of those with chronic health conditions have had the vaccine so far and the Head of the British Lung Foundation in Wales, Joseph Carter, is concerned about the consequences of not having the vaccine;
“Flu can cause serious complications and even lead to death. There are 186,000 people in Wales suffering from chronic respiratory health conditions, this includes those with emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung conditions.
“I urge them to get the vaccination to help reduce both the likelihood of getting flu and the chances of flu making their health condition worse.”
Andrew Langford, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust agrees: “People with liver disease are more vulnerable to infections, and if they do get an illness, are more likely to become severely ill. As a result it is really important to keep up-to-date with vaccinations. Flu can be very serious for those at risk, so take up your GP’s offer of a vaccination and be protected this winter.” The vaccination is also available in many community pharmacies in Wales this year.
Flu vaccination remains the single best way to protect against flu, and can be given to those in risk groups from 6 months of age. It is also strongly recommended for all pregnant women. For children from the age of two years it is a nasal spray vaccine.
Dr Richard Roberts added: “Having the vaccination remains the best protection against flu, and I am strongly and very seriously urging all those who are in risk groups to get it now, if they haven’t already done so. This includes children with long term conditions, who should have the nasal spray vaccine at their GP surgery.”
The annual flu vaccination programme aims to ensure that the people who need it most get free protection each year against flu. It is also available for unpaid carers who should get the vaccine to protect themselves and the person they care for. People employed to give frontline health or social care should also be vaccinated, and should talk to their employer about getting the vaccine as part of their occupational health protection.
The flu virus spreads easily via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Direct contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection. It can spread rapidly, especially in closed communities such as hospitals, residential homes and schools.
Other long term health conditions where there is an increased risk of complications if someone catches flu are diabetes, heart and kidney disease, and certain neurological conditions such as stroke.
Pregnant women and those aged 65 and over are also at increased risk of complications.
All children aged two and three years old on 31 August 2015, and children in reception class, school year 1 and year 2 (generally aged 4 - 6 years old) are also being offered protection with a nasal spray flu vaccine. The two and three year olds will have their nasal spray vaccine at their GP surgery and children in reception class, school year 1 and year 2 will be offered the their nasal spray vaccine at school.
You can find out more about how to get your NHS vaccine by visiting www.beatflu.org or www.curwchffliw.org, or finding Beat Flu or Curwch Ffliw on twitter and facebook.
If in doubt as to whether you are in a risk group, check with your GP surgery or community pharmacy.
Source: Velindre Cancer Centre