People living in north Cumbria are being urged to get their flu vaccination and take steps to keep themselves well over the winter months and help protect themselves, their family and friends from the virus.

Flu is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza A or B viruses. It is an unpredictable virus that can cause mild illness in most people but some people are more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Patients in at risk groups who are eligible to receive a free flu jab from their GP include:

  • everyone aged over 65
  • women who are pregnant
  • those aged 6 months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups including patients who suffer from a chronic illness, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease  (COPD), kidney disease, hepatitis, Parkinsons, HIV and diabetes
  • children aged 2 or 3 years old (on 31 August of current flu season), all primary school-aged children and children with a health condition that puts them at a greater risk of flu
  • those in long-stay residential care homes
  • carers

Dr Helen Horton, Distington GP, said: 

“We are encouraging people to get their flu jab. Even if you had your jab over the last winter period, you will need to have one again, because flu changes every year.

“The flu jab is a simple procedure which could ultimately save lives. You shouldn’t wait until there is a flu outbreak and you should get the vaccination as soon as possible, especially if you are in an ‘at risk’ category.”

Studies have shown that flu vaccinations will help prevent people from getting flu. The flu vaccine is available every year to protect adults, and some children, at risk of flu and its complications. It provides protection against strains of flu that are predicted to circulate each year, as these strains may be different from previous years.

Although the vaccine won't stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary from person to person. If you do get flu after vaccination it is likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it otherwise might have been.

Again this year, a more effective vaccine is also being given to those aged 65 and over, which is proven to give better protection against flu for people of this age. This ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine is expected to significantly boost effectiveness by improving the body’s immune response to the vaccine.

This is important because typically, older adults’ bodies do not respond as well to the flu vaccine due to their naturally weaker immune systems. Older adults are also more likely to suffer complications from flu.

For most children the flu vaccine is a quick and easy nasal spray. Children aged 2 and 3 receive the vaccine through their GP and children reception and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 receive it in school.

If you have a child who is of the eligible age, make sure you sign the consent form allowing them to have the flu vaccine at school. The nasal spray may also be available for people with learning disabilities.

Dr Horton added: “The option of the nasal vaccination is available for children, ensuring that they are protected with this painless and effective process.

“Real flu can be debilitating and if you are already living with a condition, you are either very young or very old it can hit you harder. 

“All NHS staff and frontline health and social care workers are also encouraged to get the vaccination which will help to protect patients, colleagues and their families.

“It is also important to remember that flu is highly infectious and can spread rapidly in closed environments so people with symptoms should avoid visiting locations such as hospitals, schools and care homes.”

Many GP Surgeries also run special flu clinics to offer people more opportunities to receive the flu jab - Contact your GP Surgery to find out the dates of any planned clinics.

Cold weather can often cause symptoms of illness, but many of them can be tackled by taking some simple steps and by visiting your local pharmacy. Here are some other simple tips to help you stay well this winter.

  • keep warm – If you have reduced mobility, are 65 or over, or have a health condition such as heart or lung disease, you should heat your home to at least 18C
  • if you have elderly relatives please make sure they are drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • if you need medical advice you can call NHS 111 for free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

A free child health app is also available to download on your mobile to offer advice for looking after your child’s health. The NHS guide has been specifically designed for parents and carers of children aged 0 to 5 years.

The app was designed by hospital specialists, doctors, health visitors and pharmacists to provide lots of useful hints and tips. Search for ‘NHS Child Health’.

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