These figures show that while a majority of older people are getting themselves vaccinated, mums-to-be and younger people with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease are missing out. Ensuring that they protect themselves against flu this winter could potentially save their lives.
People sometimes think a bad cold is flu, but viral influenza is a distinct and more severe condition. It can hit suddenly, with debilitating symptoms including chiills, sweats and muscle pains. In the very severe cases, seasonal flu can require high dependency hospital care and, sadly, every year, some people die from flu.
Those at most risk are:
These groups are eligible for a free flu jab from their GP because, for them, seasonal flu can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. Carers are also eligible for the vaccination.
Local mother, Enda Bashford, 27, nearly died along with her unborn baby earlier this year after catching flu while she was pregnant with her third child.
“I saw on the news that pregnant women should be vaccinated and I definitely meant to go – I took my older sons Dylan and Kieran for their swine flu vaccine the year before – but I fell ill before I got round to making the appointment,” said Enda, from Rochester. “You don’t think it will ever happen to you but it did.”
Enda and her husband Rob, 25, are now fronting an NHS Kent and Medway campaign to encourage all mums-to-be to get vaccinated.
“I want 100 per cent of pregnant women and other people who should get the flu vaccine to have it,” Rob said. “If someone in your family – your daughter or sister - isn’t having the vaccine, make sure they do."
Dr Alison Barnett, Director of Public Health for Medway, said: "We think of flu as inconvenient, but anyone who has had it will tell you, it's more than that and, for some people, it can be far more serious again. More than 600 people across the UK are known to have died as a result of flu last year, including nine pregnant women.
“The vaccine does not contain the live virus, so it cannot give you flu – but it could save your life.
“Women can safely be given the flu vaccine at any stage of their pregnancy and there is no risk to either mum or baby. Vaccinated mums also pass protective antibodies to their babies, which protect the baby during its first six months, when the flu vaccine cannot be given.
"I would urge everyone who is eligible for a flu jab and has not yet had one to contact their GP practice to fix a time for their vaccination.”
Everyone can protect themselves and those around them from viruses and other infectious conditions through keeping up basic hygiene measures.
Wash your hands often, using soap, up to your wrists, in running water for as long as it takes to sing a verse of ‘happy birthday’.
Use a tissue to catch coughs or sneezes, throw it away “catch it, bin it, kill it”.
Keep working surfaces clean - the flu virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours
Note to Editors
People in an at risk group are more likely to die if they get flu than a “healthy” person. In particular:
- people with diabetes are 6 times more likely to die if they get flu than a “healthy” person;
- people with chronic heart disease are 11 times more likely to die if they get flu that a “healthy” person;
- people with chronic respiratory disease are 7 times more likely to die if they get flu than a “healthy” person;
- people with chronic renal disease are 19 times more likely to die if they get flu than a “healthy” person;
- people with chronic liver disease are 48 times more likely to die if they get flu than a “healthy” person;
- people undergoing medical treatment who may have a compromised immune system are 47 times more likely to die if they get flu than a “healthy” person; and
- people with a neurological condition such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy are 40 times more likely to die if they get flu than a “healthy” person.