30 Jan 2020

Fighting Flu: Hacks To Protect Yourself & Stay Well This Winter

What is flu?

Flu is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract, usually characterised by a fever, chills, headache, aching muscles, joint pain and fatigue. It is a highly infectious virus different to the common cold, and spreads rapidly in closed communities and even people with mild or no symptoms can infect others.

Flu kills an average of 8,000 people every year, and it can be particularly serious in older adults, very young children, and people with underlying health conditions.

How common is flu?

The latest Public Health England (PHE) report, shows that seasonal flu continues to circulate across the UK, although activity is decreasing.

Over the last week (beginning of 2020), GP consultations with flu-like illness decreased from 10.3 per 100,000 to 9.0 per 100,000 and continue to stay below baseline levels.

Flu hospitalisation and intensive care admission rates also decreased from 1.39 per 100,000 to 1.05 per 100,000 and 0.13 per 100,000 to 0.10 per 100,000 respectively – suggesting flu is having a low impact on hospital admissions as well as intensive care unit and high dependency unit admissions.

The report also shows that in week 4, 2020, statistically significant excess all-cause mortality by week of death had been seen overall in England.

Currently, 71.6% of adults over 65, 43.1% of adults with a long-term health condition, 42.8% of pregnant women, 41.8% of 3-year-olds and 41.1% of 2-year-olds have received the flu vaccine.

At the same time last year, 71.2% of adults over 65, 46.7% of adults with a long-term health condition, 44.8% of pregnant women, 45.0% of 3-year-olds and 43.0% of 2-year-olds were vaccinated.

During the winter months, flu is a serious concern for older people and people living with a compromised immune system. However, there are steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk associated with this potentially serious virus. 

What can you do to stay healthy and prevent the spread of influenza?

Get your flu vaccine:

Ensure you and your family gets an annual flu shot every single year. The flu vaccine remains the best defence we have against flu and protects those people who are most vulnerable. Certain groups of people are at higher risk from flu, including adults aged 65 and over, those with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, and frontline health and social care workers.

Who is the flu vaccine offered to?

  • those aged 65 years and over
  • those aged 6 months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups
  • pregnant women
  • those living in a residential or nursing home
  • the main carer of an older or disabled person
  • children aged 2-3 (on 31 August 2019) and all primary school aged children
  • Employers of frontline health and social care workers also have a responsibility to ensure their staff can get the free vaccine.

More people than ever are now eligible for the flu vaccine and 25 million people in England will be offered it for free by the NHS. For the first time, the nasal spray vaccine will be offered to all primary school aged children, which means an extra 600,000 children will be protected.

A brand new flu vaccination marketing campaign for health and social care workers has also launched, delivered by PHE, NHS England and NHS Improvement. “Time to get your flu jab” takes a new approach, emphasising the protective benefit of the flu vaccination of themselves, their family, and their patients.

A wider range of flu vaccines are now available which should offer better protection. This includes the ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine which was offered to those aged 65 years and over for the first-time last year and provided a higher level of protection compared to the standard non-adjuvanted vaccines in this age group.

In addition, a new cell-based vaccine which protects against four strains of flu (quadrivalent) will also be available for those aged 65 and over, and those under 65 with underlying medical conditions. As the vaccine virus is grown in cells, rather than eggs, this avoids the changes that can occur when using eggs in the manufacturing process. There is increasing evidence in recent seasons that egg adaptation may mean that vaccines do not work as well, particularly against the A(H3N2) virus strain.

This vaccine should offer better protection for older people against flu than standard-dose, non-adjuvanted vaccines that are grown in eggs. The cell-based vaccine is therefore considered equally suitable for older adults as the ‘adjuvated’ vaccine. For under 65s with underlying health conditions and pregnant women , both the quadrivalent egg-based vaccine and quadrivalent cell-based vaccine are equally suitable We advise that you can accept any of the vaccines recommended for your age.

Wash your hands properly:

Twenty seconds of hand washing with warm water and soap helps remove bacteria and viruses. For when you're out and about, carry antibacterial hand cleansing gel to apply as and when required. You can also carry a pack of antibacterial wet wipes in your bag to use on surfaces such as coffee shop tables and bathroom door handles. 

Cover up when you cough or sneeze:

If a tissue is not available, raise your arm up to your face to cough or sneeze into your sleeve. If you use a tissue, dispose of it and wash your hands immediately.

Take hygiene seriously:

Keep shared surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, and telephones clean as bacteria can live up to two days on hard surfaces. Buy antibacterial surface wipes or aerosol antibacterial sprays such as Detol, to kill bacteria living on these surfaces. 

Stay home if you are unwell:

If you become unwell, stay at home so that you do not spread your illness to others. Contact your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms, should you become unwell. 

Anyone can get the flu, but some people, such as people over 65-years-old, are at greater risk for serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia, that can lead to hospitalisation and even death.

Protecting yourself from flu:

Flu is very infectious and the virus can live on hands and hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. This is why it is important to “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it” - “Catch” any sneezes in a tissue, “Bin” any tissues immediately and “Kill” the virus by washing your hands with soap and warm water. Avoid contact with sick people and wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub. If you are unwell, look after yourself, drink plenty of fluids and stay at home so you don’t spread flu to others.

The vaccine remains the best defence we have to protect against the spread of flu and we encourage everyone eligible to get it each year.

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