HEALTH chiefs say it’s not too late to get a flu jab.
During the first week of the new year, the average number of cases reported in Cheshire and Merseyside increased to more than 20 from 13 the previous week.
Their advice comes as seasonal flu levels reach the point at which doctors are being advised to prescribe anti-viral drugs to vulnerable patients.
Professor John Watson, head of respiratory diseases at the Health Protection Agency, said: “Our surveillance shows that since mid-December seasonal flu activity in the country as a whole has started to increase to normal seasonal levels which the NICE guidelines refer to as the levels seen most winters.
“For most people, flu is miserable, lasting a week or so, but not life threatening.
“But for those in at-risk groups, however, such as the elderly and patients with heart problems, diabetes or lung, liver or renal diseases, or those who have weak immune systems, it can be far more dangerous and can lead to more serious illnesses.”
Dr John Reid, director of the North West’s Cheshire and Merseyside Health Protection Unit, said: “Flu rates are still comparatively low in the North West, but with evidence of increasing levels elsewhere in the country, there is no room for complacency. Anyone entitled to a free flu jab on the NHS should have one now, if they haven’t already.
“Flu is not a bad cold. It is a serious illness and people are particularly vulnerable if they are aged 65 or over, have a chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma, or live together in close proximity in residential care homes.”
Prof Watson said: “Vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal influenza. Anti-virals are only effective if taken within 48 hours of onset of symptoms.
“They may limit the impact of some symptoms and reduce the potential for serious complications. However, vaccination is the best way of avoiding infection when flu is circulating.”
People eligible for a free flu jab on the NHS if they are:
Aged 65 or older,
Live in long-stay residential homes,
Have a history of heart conditions, kidney disease, chronic asthma or diabetes that requires medication,
Have lowered immunity to infection as a result of HIV, steroid medication or cancer treatment.
Symptoms of seasonal flu include sudden onset of fever with aching muscles and joints.
Patients may also experience a headache, cough or sore throat. People with flu are advised to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take pain-relievers such as paracetamol.
Good hygiene practice such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing is the most effective way, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon you can are important actions that will help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of transmission.