A simple vaccination can help protect you and others this winter

The annual fight against flu has begun and people living in East Berkshire are being encouraged to have their vaccination to help Stay Well This Winter.

Flu can be a very serious illness for some people. It can lead to more severe complications 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. There has been a serious outbreak of flu in Australia this year and we want as many people to be as protected as possible.

The best way to avoid catching and spreading flu is by having the vaccination before the flu season starts.

The flu vaccination is available for free on the NHS for various groups and individuals that could be particularly vulnerable to complications.

This year, you are eligible for a free flu vaccination if you are:

  • Aged 65 years or over (including those becoming age 65 years by 31 March 2018)
  • Aged from 6 months to less than 65 years of ages with a serious medical condition which includes chronic (long term) respiratory disease, such as severe asthma; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis; chronic heart disease, such as heart failure; chronic kidney disease at stage three, four or five; chronic liver disease; chronic neurological disease such as Parkinson’s disease or motor neurone disease, or learning disability; diabetes; splenic dysfunction; weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatment (such as cancer treatment); morbidly obese (defined as BMI of 40 and above)
  • You are pregnant (including those women who become pregnant during the flu season)
  • A child aged two to nine on 31 August 2016
  • Living in long-stay residential care homes or other long-stay care facilities where rapid spread is likely to follow introduction of infection and cause high morbidity and mortality. Please note that this does not include prisons, young offender institutions, or university halls of residence
  • You are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or if you are the main carer of an older or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill

If you do not fall within any of the above groups, you can still have the vaccination by paying for it at your local pharmacist.

The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, extreme tiredness and aches and pains in the joints and muscles.  Healthy individuals usually recover within a week, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.  If you do get the flu make sure you rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthily.  Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any fever or discomfort, can also help.

Flu is caused by influenza viruses and not bacteria. Therefore, antibiotics will not help to treat it.  However, if there are complications from getting flu, antibiotics may be needed.

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spread the flu virus in tiny droplets of saliva over a wide area. These droplets can then be breathed in by other people or they can be picked up by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed. You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and you can wash your hands frequently or use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus.

Associate Director for Nursing and Quality, Jo Greengrass, from the East Berkshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), said: “Getting your flu vaccine is easy. Simply call and book an appointment with your doctor, midwife or pharmacy.

“Some GP surgeries across East Berkshire are offering flu clinics on certain dates/ times for those who are eligible for the free vaccine, so it would be worth you checking these details by either calling them or visiting their website. Some surgeries are sending our invitations to attend these clinics.

She added: “The best time to have your vaccination is in the autumn, so anytime between now and early November is good.

“If you have a long term condition such as asthma, diabetes, a neurological disease or chronic liver, kidney or lung disease, or indeed if you are pregnant, then protecting yourself against flu is vital.

“Flu can also be serious for young children and because they mix with so many family members they are called ‘superspreaders’. For these reasons, we feel it is really important for them to be vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them.”

This year, children in Reception, Years 1, 2, 3 and 4 (aged up to 9 years on 31 August 2017) will be offered the free flu vaccination in the form of a nasal spray in schools. Children aged two to three will continue to have theirs via their GP.

The strain of flu can change each year so even if you were vaccinated last year, you are being advised to vaccinate again this year.

This is the first of a series of press releases to be published by the East Berkshire CCGs as part of their on-going efforts to ensure people Stay Well this winter.