Public urged to act fast to avoid festive flu

16 December 2019

England’s top doctors have urged people to protect themselves and their families from flu over the coming week amid warnings that new cases may peak over the busy Christmas period.

While more people over the age of 65 have got their flu jab than this time last year – the call to action from Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS national medical director, and Professor Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England’s Medical Director, comes after a warning from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, of an increased risk of flu while the country celebrates Christmas, Hanukah and the New Year.

As flu levels ramp up, alongside fresh calls for the public to get protected, Public Health England (PHE) has activated the Catch It, Bin It, Kill It campaign, to help prevent the spread of the highly infectious disease.

Hundreds of thousands could see their holiday plans turn to misery if flu levels rise as expected in late December and early January.

The latest surveillance data from PHE shows that GP consultations for Influenza-like Illness have risen by 24% from week 48 to week 49, while the impact of flu on hospitals was at moderate levels.

Flu can take its toll on anyone, so anyone can benefit from getting a jab, but those aged over 65, young children, pregnant women or those who have underlying medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to complications requiring hospital care.

NHS teams in GP surgeries, A&E departments and hospital wards are already seeing the number of people coming forward for treatment increase, with some schools and care homes also reporting suspected outbreaks.

Current evidence shows that vaccinations available this year are well-matched to the main strain of flu circulating, so getting your jab – or nasal spray for children – offers the best possible chance of avoiding missing out on festivities.

But concerns remain for those who have yet to protect themselves or their children, who can spread the virus from schools and nurseries to family members even if they don’t succumb to symptoms themselves.

Almost seven and a half million eligible children and adults missed out on their free NHS vaccination last year.

Respiratory problems were the single most common cause of a trip to A&E for the over-65s in December 2018, closely followed by cardiac conditions, which can also be made worse by a dose of flu.

For most people, flu will pass within a few days with care at home – tips are available on the website. But where people have concerns about themselves or their loved ones, they can use the free NHS 111 phone or online service to get advice on the best course of action.

NHS-commissioned school vaccination teams, maternity services, general practices and local pharmacies have all been working hard since the autumn to deliver vaccines to primary school-aged children, two and three-year olds, those with underlying health conditions, pregnant women and people aged 65 years and over.

Frontline NHS healthcare workers, as well as care home and home care teams, are also being urged to take up free vaccinations offered through their employers, so that they reduce the risk of passing on an infection to their vulnerable patients.