Public urged to act fast to avoid festive flu

London’s top doctor has 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 received their flu jab than this time last year – the call to action from Dr Vin Diwakar, Medical Director for NHS London comes after a warning from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, of an increased risk of flu while the capital celebrates Christmas, Hanukah and the New Year.

The latest surveillance data from Public Health England (PHE) shows that GP consultations for Influenza-like illness have risen by 24 per cent from week 48 to week 49, while the impact of flu on hospitals was at moderate levels.

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

Flu can take its toll on anyone, so everyone 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 from flu requiring hospital care.

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.

Dr Vin Diwakar, Regional Medical Director for NHS London, said:

Our message is simple: the flu season is here, get protected now. It might be the difference between a Christmas to remember, and one to forget.

“I’m pleased to see that more people over the age of 65 have already got their jab, as getting flu is particularly bad news for older people and those with underlying health conditions.  Unfortunately it can lead to really serious conditions like pneumonia and bronchitis, which can mean a lengthy stay in hospital.

“However, vaccine uptake among 2-3 year olds is lagging behind previous seasons; with only 28 per cent of 2-3 year olds nationally having received the vaccine at the beginning of December.

“We know there had been delays with vaccine delivery from the manufacturer, but these have now been resolved and PHE and the NHS are urging parents of at-risk children who missed their school session or in situations where the school programme is due in January not to wait, and to contact their GP today to arrange an appointment to get protected.

“This is especially important as children are ‘super spreaders’ of flu, and are more likely to see elderly relatives around the holiday season.”

Professor Yvonne Doyle, PHE Medical Director, said:

“No one wants to see their children suffering with flu – far from a common cold, flu can have serious consequences for young children and those with underlying medical conditions.

“To reduce the risk of spreading flu, use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often with warm water and soap, and bin used tissues as quickly as possible. Catch it. Bin it. Kill it.”

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 those at risk of catching the flu.

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, to reduce the risk of passing on an infection to their vulnerable patients.