WINTER is upon us, and along with the shorter, colder days comes a higher risk of flu and other infections that are unpleasant at best and dangerous at their worst.
Staying warm, following good hygiene rules and eating a nutritious diet are a few simple ways to boost your defences against illness.
Some people need extra protection, and they also qualify for free immunisations on the NHS. Right now, the annual NHS flu immunisation campaign is in full swing, and it is hoped that new formulations this year will make the vaccine more effective.
You may qualify for jabs against other serious infections, too, and it’s a good time to find out what’s on offer.
I asked Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at Public Health England, to bring us up to date, especially on the flu vaccine.
She explained that flu can cause severe illness in those at high risk, including older people, pregnant women and people with an underlying health condition. They are more vulnerable to developing potentially serious complications, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
Dr Ramsay advises that the vaccine is the best form of protection against the spread of flu. This year, the flu immunisation programme in England is offering those aged sixty-five and over an adjuvanted vaccine, which has an extra ingredient that should boost its effectiveness. It works by improving the body’s immune response to the vaccine.
This new vaccine has the potential to prevent 700 hospital flu deaths and 2,000 hospital admissions in England this year.
In addition, all vulnerable adults under sixty-five (those with serious health conditions, pregnant women and healthcare workers) will be offered a quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four strains of flu. Last year, the quadrivalent vaccine was not available in all parts of England.
There is also a childhood vaccination programme for flu, offered through the GP, for younger children and in schools.
Flu immunisation policies are set separately in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but they follow the same scientific advice, so wherever you live, check with your GP surgery or local pharmacy to see what’s available.
Flu is not the only germ that can cause serious chest infections. That is why the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumonia-related infections, is also available if you’re over sixty-five.
Unlike the flu jab, given every year, the pneumococcal vaccination is a one-off jab.
If you’re aged between seventy to seventy-nine, you can also ask your GP about having the shingles vaccine, which helps to protect against this very painful and potentially fatal condition.
Although you may be offered these vaccinations alongside your flu jab, you can request them at any time of year, not just during the winter.
If you’d like more information, visit the NHS website at www.nhs.uk/ conditions/vaccinations. ■