The NHS in North East and North Cumbria is warning residents with long term conditions, like asthma and heart disease, of the added risk to their health during and after winter weather warnings.
Heart attacks increase almost immediately after a cold snap accounting for two-in-five winter excess deaths (the number of people who die during winter months compared to non-winter), and the same proportion of NHS excess winter admissions.
Hospitals also see a rise in the admission of stroke patients five days after the cold weather begins and peak respiratory admissions go up 12 days after the temperature drops.
The NHS is advising those most vulnerable to take sensible precautions to ensure they minimise the after-effects of extreme cold weather. The elderly are advised to keep warm, both indoors and out, and to heat their homes to at least 18 degrees Celsius.
There is still time to get the flu jab to help avoid unnecessary hospital stays.
NHS England’s Medical Director for Cumbria and the North East, Professor Chris Gray, said: “It is important to be mindful of the immediate knock-on effect of the cold weather. Patients who have pre-existing conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may not be aware that they are most at risk of falling ill in the days after temperatures drop.
“Freezing temperatures bring with them increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the days immediately following a cold snap. This also adds pressure on already busy A&E departments and can be avoided by taking simple steps to keep well.
“You can help protect yourself against flu by getting the jab and ensuring your home is properly heated. The vaccine is the best defence we have against the spread of flu and is free for people with long-term conditions such as heart, kidney or liver disease. While we are reaching the end of the vaccine season, there is still supply available and it isn’t too late to get vaccinated.
“Pharmacists are fully qualified to give advice on the best course of action for many ailments, and should be seen as soon as anyone feels unwell.”
More information about how the public can stay healthy during winter can be found on NHS Choices website.
The latest Public health England (PHE) report shows that seasonal flu activity levels have continued to increase across the UK. Over the last week there has been an 11% increase in the flu hospitalisation rate, a 42% increase in the GP consultation rate with flu like illness compared to the previous week (when practices were open for four days), and an 8% reduction in the flu intensive care admission rate.
The report also shows that in weeks 50 2017 to week 2 of 2018, statistically significant excess mortality from all causes is now being observed in over 65s in England although this currently remains lower than the excess mortality observed last season and in 2014 to 2015.
According to PHE, these excess deaths cannot with certainty be attributed to specific causes but flu and the very cold weather affecting areas of the country since Christmas are likely to be contributing factors.
The ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’ campaign running across digital, radio and press advertising platforms advises how to protect against and reduce the spread of the virus by practising good respiratory hand hygiene.
If you care for children, the child health app is free to download and offers a wealth of advice and support.
The app is part of the NHS awareness and education ‘plasticine people’ campaign in Cumbria and the North East, to help influence the decisions people make about which health service to use and to improve patient flow and experience across the health system in the region.