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Top Wales health officials unite and tell those with long term conditions to Beat Flu

Wales’s top health officials are this week urging people with long term health conditions to get protected against flu. Flu (influenza) can have serious complications for some people, which includes those with long term medical conditions.
Those suffering from heart, chest, kidney, liver or respiratory problems, as well as diabetics and people who have suffered a stroke or mini stroke, are at higher risk of becoming very ill with flu than the general population – that’s why it is important for them to have the free vaccination, to help protect themselves.

Flu vaccine_long term conditions_POLending her support to the Beat Flu campaign, Wales’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Ruth Hussey, said: “It was encouraging to see an increase in the number of people receiving the flu vaccination last year. However, if you did have it last year you still need to do so again now as immunity decreases over time and flu viruses can change each year, which is why new vaccines are produced annually.

“The vaccination offers good protection against flu, with protection starting around a week to 10 days after the vaccination is given. People with long term conditions, as well as those aged 65 and over and pregnant women, must get protected as soon as possible now the flu season has started.”

Head of the British Medical Association in Wales, Dr Richard Lewis, agrees that those suffering with long term health conditions must pay particular care this winter and avoid catching flu by getting the jab as soon as possible: “It is important that the flu campaign reaches as many vulnerable and ‘at-risk’ people as possible because flu can cause serious complications and even lead to death. The vaccination can reduce both the likelihood of getting flu and the severity of the illness of those unfortunate enough to catch it.

“GPs are prepared for this winter’s battle against the flu bug. Across the country, surgeries have put in place the systems needed to reach and protect as many older and at risk patients as possible.

“Flu can be very serious for those at risk, so take up your GP’s offer of a vaccination and be protected this winter.”

Last year, for the first time, more than 50% of people aged under 65 at risk had the flu vaccine, which despite being a slight increase on the previous year (+1.4%) still falls short of the Welsh Government’s 75% target uptake.

The best uptake of all the clinical ‘at risk’ groups was people with diabetes, with 65.5% getting vaccinated last year. People with chronic liver disease were amongst the lowest uptake figures – with just 41.3% being protected with the vaccine.

Tina Donnelly, Director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, had her flu jab last week and is convinced that Wales can improve when it comes to beating flu: “Those who are required to visit their GP regularly, such as diabetics, are often best protected because they are constantly reminded by health care professionals to do so. However, uptake of the flu vaccine is lower amongst those with other long term health conditions, such as liver conditions or underlying neurological complaints like stroke or mini stroke.

“We have to ensure that all groups are aware of this free service available to them – and most importantly, why it is potentially crucial to their health this winter. Flu is a killer – but it doesn’t have to be. The vaccination is quick, pain free and cost free too, so there are no excuses.”

Support for the annual Beat Flu campaign has been widespread in Wales – with representatives from the Royal College of Midwives and leading charities such as Kidney Wales and British Lung Foundation Wales having already pledged to Beat Flu, amongst many more.

The annual flu vaccination programme aims to ensure that the people who need it most get free protection each year against flu. This year, for the second year running, a flu nasal spray vaccine is being offered to children who were two or three years old (on 31 August) and school year 7 pupils - and for the first time, four year olds have been added to the routine flu vaccination programme.

Source: Cwm Taf University Health Board