6 October 2014

Thousands urged to get flu jab

Residents aged 65 and over as well as frontline health and social care staff are being urged to have a free flu vaccine to avoid catching and spreading the potentially fatal disease.

More than 11,000 Brighton and Hove residents aged 65 and over risk catching seasonal flu this winter if vaccination rates match those of last year.  Over the flu season last year at least 13 residents were admitted into intensive care in the city’s hospitals with the highly infectious disease which compares to 904 nationally. No-one died locally from flu although nationally there were 98 deaths.

For many the symptoms, which include fever, headache and aches and pains, can be quite mild but for some groups such as those aged 65 and over the disease can lead to hospitalisation, disability and even death.

Older residents are being urged to contact their GPs to take up the free jab because the best way to avoid catching and spreading flu is by having a vaccination before the flu season starts.

Most people that have the vaccine will not get flu and the side effects are generally mild and can include slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards.

Around 24,700 of the 35,800 residents aged 65 and over in the city were vaccinated last year.

Increasing numbers of health and social care staff in contact with residents aged 65 and over are becoming vaccinated with the numbers rising 14% to 313 last year.

Brighton & Hove City Council director of public health Tom Scanlon said:

“Influenza can be a very serious illness and for some people such as those aged 65 and over it can lead to serious illness, hospitalisation and even death.

“The best way to avoid catching and spreading flu is by taking up the offer of a free jab before the flu season starts. This offer is for those most at risk of flu including those aged 65 and over as well as frontline health and care workers in contact with this age group.

“Flu is preventable and I would strongly advise those in target groups to contact your surgery to arrange for your free flu jab.”

Brighton and Hove GP Katie Stead, who is promoting the flu jab for the local Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“The flu jab is free for residents aged 65 and over and care workers so why not take advantage of it. The vaccination could prevent you from having a nasty illness, going into hospital and passing on a nasty illness to friends and family.
“It’s easy, only takes minutes and all GP surgeries provide it through either appointments or surgeries where you can just turn up. It’s a myth that the jab gives you flu and that the jab is not effective in preventing flu – it is effective.”

Bridgett Dubeau, aged 72, manages a sheltered housing scheme in Brighton.  She said: “I was born in January 1942 during the Second World War and I started having flu as a child. This was proper flu….you know flu that knocks you out. Not every winter but most winters.
“You want to lie down in bed and not move but your body aches because the pressure on the bed makes your limbs ache. You have not got the energy barely to go to the toilet and you’re running a fever and you don’t know what to do with yourself. If there was a £10 note on the floor you could not pick it up.
“I suffered with the flu every year and sometimes twice a year. And then when I was 60 I started working in sheltered housing so the doctor suggested I have a flu jab and since then I have never had flu.’
“I must say even colds are better, I don’t get so many colds. You don’t want to get flu and the fact is that the older you get it could kill you. I must admit the last time I had flu I wouldn’t have minded if I had died because I felt like death.’

Harold Williams, aged 78, from Rottingdean, is a double leg amputee and has had two heart operations that make him particularly prone to serious problems if he caught the flu.
He said: “I have the flu jab every year now because I daren’t catch the flu. The worst thing that can happen to me after everything else is to get the flu. I avoid the flu like the plague.”

The full list of residents recommended to have the free flu vaccine are:
•    everyone aged 65 and over
•    everyone under 65 years of age who has certain medical conditions, including children and babies over six months of age
•    everyone who cares for an older or disabled person household contacts of anyone who is immunocompromised
•    all pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy
•    all two-, three- and four-year-old children
•    all children in primary school and years 7 and 8 in pilot areas around the country
•    everyone living in a residential or nursing home
•    all frontline health and social care workers.

Ends

Frequently asked questions

What is flu?

Flu is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, mouth, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs). It is a highly infectious illness which spreads rapidly in closed communities and even those with mild symptoms can infect others.

When are people most likely to catch flu?

Most cases of flu in the UK occur during an 8-10 week period during the autumn and winter months, usually between September to March.

How is flu passed on?

Flu is easily transmitted by large droplets, small particle aerosols and by hand to mouth / eye contamination from an infected surface or respiratory secretions of infected persons. Those with mild or no symptoms can still infect others around them.

What are the symptoms of flu and how does this compare to the common cold?

Common symptoms of flu include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, myalgia, extreme fatigue, a dry cough, sore throat and stuffy nose. In young children gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea may be seen. The flu can be much worse than a cold and recovery may involve up to a week in bed.

What are the potential complications around catching flu?

There is a misconception that flu is a ‘bad cold’ but the flu can be much worse than a cold and recovery may involve up to a week in bed. For some people, flu can increase the risk of developing more serious illness such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital, or even death.

How is flu treated?

People with suspected flu should stay at home and rest, drink plenty of fluids and seek advice from a pharmacist about the best remedy for their symptoms. They should also consider taking the appropriate dose of paracetamol/ibuprofen-based painkillers to relieve symptoms.

What harm can flu cause?

There are many possible complications that can occur as a result of flu including bronchitis, otitis, sinusitis and secondary bacterial pneumonia. Other more serious and less common conditions such as meningitis, encephalitis, meningoecephalitis and primary influenza pneumonia can also occur as a result of flu.

The risk of most serious illness from flu is higher in children under 6 months, pregnant women, older people and those with underlying health conditions such as respiratory disease, cardiac disease, chronic neurological condition or immunosuppression. Flu during pregnancy may be associated with perinatal mortality, prematurity, smaller neonatal size and lower birth weight.

Who is at increased risk from the effects of flu?

There are certain people who are at increased risk of complications from flu. This includes pregnant women and those with a heart problem, a chest complaint or breathing difficulties including bronchitis or emphysema, kidney or liver disease, lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment), those who have had a stroke or transient ischaemic attack, a neurological condition such as MS or cerebral palsy, or a problem with their spleen for example sickle cell disease.

How many people were severely unwell or died from flu last year?

In the 2013/14 season, there were 904 intensive care or high dependency unit admissions for confirmed influenza and 98 deaths.

Do people need to get vaccinated every year?

Every year, the flu vaccine changes to protect against different strains of flu from the previous year. It is strongly recommended that even those who were vaccinated last year, are vaccinated again this year.
Why is a flu vaccination my best protection against flu?
You can do things like washing your hands and using disposable tissues for coughs and sneezes, but the vaccination will help your body to fight flu viruses. Your body starts making antibodies against the viruses about a week to ten days after the injection. These antibodies help to protect you against similar flu viruses that you may meet. The flu vaccine will not protect you against the common cold or other winter viruses.
Will I get any side effects?
There are some fairly common but mild side effects. Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected. Any other reactions are very rare. Side effects in children are uncommon but may include a runny or blocked nose, headache, general tiredness and some loss of appetite.