Complacency towards flu and not getting the vaccination when eligible could lead to a significant increase in the number of people admitted to hospital this winter, residents are being warned.
The stark warning comes from doctors across Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire, who fear many people at risk of developing serious complications as a result of flu will put off getting the flu vaccine, as has happened previously.
In 2019, only one in two pregnant women and only 40 per cent of carers, most of whom will be caring for a vulnerable person with a complex health need, had the vaccine.
Much more than a regular cold, flu has the potential to debilitate even the healthiest of people, and can be even worse for pregnant women, any person aged over 64 and those with weakened immune systems and pre-existing health conditions.
Dr Ruth Grabham, Medical Director, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG, said: “I’m sure at some point we have all been guilty of saying it’s just the flu when feeling unwell, but this kind of casual attitude comes with very real risks.
“As a GP, I’ve seen the devastating effects flu can have and while most people recover through paracetamol and bed rest, others can find themselves in hospital, usually in intensive care with a very serious case of pneumonia.
“If you have never before had the flu jab but are eligible, now is the time to have it, not least to protect yourself and your family, but to protect the NHS, which is gearing up for what could be a very busy winter period.”
Dr Grabham’s call to action comes as the region continues to fight against coronavirus, which, like the flu virus, is particularly harmful to the most vulnerable people in society.
As with coronavirus, the most effective way of stopping the spread of flu is to practice good hand hygiene and to take extra care to catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue.
Getting the flu vaccine, which is free to people most at risk and widely available at GP practices, pharmacies, high street chemists and some larger supermarkets, is a proven way to stay protected during the winter months.
Dr Charlotte Forsyth, Medical Director at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, echoed Dr Grabham’s comments regarding the severity of flu.
She said: “It’s more important than ever that we protect ourselves and others from the flu, as you can pass the virus to others without having symptoms and it can be fatal for some.
“I strongly advise people who are at risk to have the vaccine as soon as it becomes available.”
Other key figures from the BSW healthcare community, which has seen a number of high profile coronavirus outbreaks in recent months, have also called on people not to put off getting the vaccine.
Kate Blackburn, Director of Public Health for Wiltshire, said: “We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves and, each other, from the flu.
“The flu jab is the most effective way to do this and we encourage as many people as possible to have the vaccination.
“As well as people’s health being protected, it will also help ease the pressure on our health services, which are expected to have a very busy winter.”
More information about flu, including who is eligible for a vaccine and where it is available from, can be found online at www.nhs.uk/conditions/flu.