‘At-risk’ groups urged to get the flu jab

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The Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging all those in ‘at-risk’ groups, who have not yet been vaccinated against flu, to get the jab now given recent cases in a small number of nursing homes across the UK and Ireland.

The PHA is working closely with one home in Northern Ireland which has seen a rise in cases since March 30. The residents affected are either recovered or are recovering.

This situation is not unexpected, as for some weeks flu has been circulating at low levels in Northern Ireland.

The home is closed to new admissions and infection control measures are in place. Information leaflets have also been made available to families of the residents at the home.

The PHA has written to all GPs in Northern Ireland reminding them that the flu virus is still circulating and recommending that vaccination continues.

While there have been high uptake rates of the vaccine this year, there are still a small number of ‘at-risk’ people who have not yet received the free vaccine.

The elderly and newly pregnant women, who are more likely to develop serious complications as a result of flu, are being reminded in particular of the importance of protecting themselves against the virus.

Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: We are continuing to see seasonal flu cases, particularly in nursing home settings. This reflects the fact that the virus is still circulating in the community. Receiving the seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting the virus. So, if you are in an ‘at-risk’ group, get the vaccine now – it’s still not too late. There are plenty of stocks of flu vaccine available.

“Many ‘at-risk’ people have already been vaccinated but some have not and we would urge them to get the vaccine now. Recently we have seen the serious consequences of flu in elderly people, therefore it is vital they receive the flu vaccine to give them the best chance of protecting themselves.”

Women who have become pregnant recently and may not have had the vaccine, should also get the flu jab as soon as possible.

Dr Smithson added: “I’m pleased to see so many women protecting themselves and their unborn babies as nearly 60% have already been vaccinated. However, I would encourage those who haven’t and are still thinking about it, to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Also, if you have just found out you are pregnant, make an appointment with your GP to get the free jab.

“We know that flu can have serious consequences for both a pregnant mother and her baby. However, there is a wealth of evidence to show that the vaccine is safe and effective at all stages of pregnancy and that it also protects both the mother and her baby for the first few months after birth – a particularly vulnerable time.

“We are delighted with how well the vaccination programme has gone so far, but we can’t afford to be complacent. It’s great to see the public taking such a positive role in protecting their own health.”

The PHA is also emphasising the need to observe good hand hygiene – using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, disposing of the tissue and washing your hands regularly. Anybody who has flu should stay at home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and take over the counter remedies which may help ease symptoms. Consult your GP if your condition is getting worse. It is important that people with symptoms of respiratory illness do not visit relatives and friends in hospitals or in nursing home settings in order to limit spread of infection to vulnerable patients

The vaccine contains three strains of the flu virus, which are the most common ones circulating this winter, including the H1N1 (swine flu) virus and AH3.