Flu is mostly affecting younger people in Wales, but protection is still available
Public Health Wales is reporting that cases of flu continue to occur throughout Wales with the highest numbers of cases seen in people aged 25-65 years of age.
So far this season, to the end of January, there have been 3,470 GP visits where flu-like illness was diagnosed and 123 patients admitted to hospital with laboratory confirmed influenza.
All parts of Wales are similarly affected.
The combination of the main circulating type of flu, to which people under the age of 65 years are particularly susceptible, along with lower numbers of people in high risk groups receiving the vaccine, is concerning. Public Health Wales is urging eligible people who haven’t yet been vaccinated against flu to get their vaccine as soon as possible.
Dr Marion Lyons, Director of Health Protection at Public Health Wales, said: “Flu is on the increase and has been causing severe illness.
“Vaccination remains the single best way to protect against flu and I would urge anyone who has a condition which makes them more vulnerable to flu who hasn’t yet had the vaccine this winter to remember that it’s not too late to get their free flu vaccine and be protected.
“It’s also important for anyone in a risk group who does develop symptoms of flu to seek early advice on treatment and try to reduce the risk of spreading flu.”
People with certain long term health conditions are at much higher risk of becoming very ill with flu than the general population, so it is especially important that they have the flu vaccine every year. People with any of these conditions are eligible for a free vaccination through the NHS, which is available from your GP, and also many community pharmacies. Pregnant women are one of the groups that are most at risk from the type of flu currently circulating in Wales, as flu infection during pregnancy can affect the health of mother and baby.
Most recent figures show that less than half the people under 65 in the risk groups have received the free NHS flu vaccine this winter.
The risk groups are:
- Chronic chest conditions including COPD, and asthma that needs steroid inhalers or tablets
- Chronic heart conditions
- Chronic kidney disease at stage 3, 4 or 5, chronic kidney failure, nephrotic syndrome or kidney transplantation
- Chronic liver disease
- Chronic neurological conditions including a stroke or mini stroke (TIA)
- Diabetes, including those who are diet controlled
- Pregnant women
- People with a suppressed immune system due to disease or treatment
- Those with a poorly functioning spleen, and
- People who live in long stay residential care facilities.
In addition, everyone in Wales who is aged 65 years or older is eligible for a free flu vaccine each year.
Flu immunisation is available from GPs and some community pharmacies in Wales.
Unlike the common cold which may develop over several days, flu symptoms usually develop very rapidly, can cause a high temperature and often include a headache, aching muscles, extreme tiredness and cough.
Anyone with symptoms of flu should drink plenty of fluids, take ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve symptoms, and avoid contact with vulnerable individuals (including pregnant women) while they have symptoms, which usually resolve in about a week.
The flu virus spreads easily via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Direct contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection.
Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms is encouraged to follow three simple steps to prevent the illness from spreading:
- ‘Catch it’ – always cough or sneeze into a tissue
- ‘Bin it’ – dispose of the tissue after use
- ‘Kill it’ – then wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to kill any flu viruses
Those in ‘at risk’ groups who think they have flu are advised to contact their GP or NHS Direct Wales (0845 46 47) for advice as soon as the symptoms start as medication may be recommended.
People at high risk of complications from flu can be offered anti-viral drugs which may reduce the risk of serious complications if started within two days of the first symptoms.