With the Christmas period fast approaching, health professionals across Wales are urging all those eligible to have their flu vaccine as soon as possible, to help them stay flu-free this winter.
Recent figures show that around 6 out of 10 people (57.8%) under the age of 65 in an at risk group in Wales have not yet had their vaccine – a situation that could potentially lead to serious health complications at a time of year when we all want to avoid being ill.
There are low levels of flu circulating in Wales and it is expected this will increase as we head into winter. Flu spreads very easily, and 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.
The flu virus spreads 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.
Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, is urging people in risk groups who haven’t had their flu vaccine yet this winter to make sure they get their flu vaccine soon, 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 older people, pregnant women and those in other risk groups such as people with liver disease, and chest or heart conditions flu is much more likely to result in serious complications, and can even be life threatening. Flu kills people every year!
“Currently we are seeing low levels of flu but the numbers of cases usually increase between now and Christmas – so it’s important to get your vaccine, there is still time to get that protection.”
People with a long term chest condition including those who take inhaled steroids for their asthma are at risk of complications if they catch flu but so far only 41.6% of this group have had their vaccine this winter. The Head of the British Lung Foundation in Wales, Joseph Carter, is concerned;
“Flu can cause serious complications and even lead to death. There are 175,000 people in Wales suffering from chronic respiratory health conditions, including those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and other lung conditions.
“Winter can be a difficult time for people with respiratory conditions, and I urge them to make sure they get the vaccination to help reduce both the likelihood of getting flu and the chances of flu making their condition worse this winter.”
Andrew Langford, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust agrees: “People with liver disease are more vulnerable to infection, and if they do get an illness, are more likely to become severely ill. So, I urge people with liver disease to take flu seriously and get protected this winter.”
The vaccination for adults is available at your GP surgery and also in many community pharmacies in Wales this year.
Flu vaccination remains the best way to protect against catching or spreading flu, and can be given from 6 months of age. It is also strongly recommended for all pregnant women. For children between the ages of 2 and 7 (as of 31 August 2016) it is offered for free as 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, most of whom should have the nasal spray vaccine at their GP surgery.”
The annual flu vaccination is also recommended for carers and frontline health and social care workers who should get the vaccine to protect themselves and those in their care. Carers can get it at their GP surgery or community pharmacy and health and social care workers should talk to their employer about getting the vaccine as part of their occupational health protection.
Other long term health conditions where there is an increased risk of complications if someone catches flu are diabetes, heart and kidney disease, those whose spleen doesn’t work properly, and neurological conditions such as stroke and mini stroke. The morbidly obese (with a BMI of 40 or more) are also at increased risk and eligible for the vaccination.
Pregnant women and those aged 65 are also part of the programme, because of their increased risk of complications from flu.
All children aged two and three years old on 31 August 2016, and children in reception class, year one, two and three in school (generally aged 4 - 7 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, year one, two and three will be offered their nasal spray vaccine at school.
If in doubt as to whether you are in a risk group, check with your GP surgery or community pharmacy.