Protecting vulnerable Islanders from Flu

Tuesday 1st November 2016

Young children, pregnant women, those aged 65 or above and people with underlying health conditions are being targeted by the Health and Social Services Department (HSSD) and GPs in the annual vaccination programme.

Parents are being encouraged to get their nursery age children protected with a nasal flu vaccine; this is aimed at children aged two to four who have not yet started school.

Dr Linda Diggle, Head of Preventive Programmes said “Parents will probably be surprised to learn that healthy children under five are more likely to be admitted to hospital with seasonal flu than any other age group. Children in this age group are two to three times more likely to catch flu than adults.

“The nasal vaccine can be given from the age of two and offers greater effectiveness in children compared with the injected vaccine. It’s given as a gentle squirt up each nostril and this is good news for children as there’s no needle involved. There are very few side-effects from the nasal flu vaccine – the main one is a runny nose for a few days.”

Children with flu have the same symptoms as adults – including fever, chills, aching muscles, headache, stuffy nose, dry cough and sore throat – but in children the symptoms of flu are more severe and prolonged because their immune systems are not as developed or as strong as adults.

Children with flu remain infectious for longer than adults (up to two weeks) and they are also more likely to pass on the infection. By protecting their children, parents can help stop spreading flu to other children and family members, especially babies and grandparents, who may be at higher risk from flu. In fact, there is good evidence to show that vaccinating children against flu is a good way to reduce flu-related illness, GP visits, hospital admissions and deaths across the whole community.

Over recent weeks, HSSD nurses have been into 31 primary schools vaccinating young children; just under 60% of all reception, year 1, 2 and 3 schoolchildren are now protected against flu. Further stocks of the nasal vaccine have now arrived in the Island and are being issued out to GPs surgeries to enable two-, three- and four-year-olds to be vaccinated during November.

The winter of 2015/16 saw above average levels of flu in the UK and Jersey, with an increase in laboratory-confirmed cases of flu in the Island.

Dr Diggle added “We recommend those at risk of flu to get vaccinated every year. The flu virus is very variable and changes over time – this means that if you had a flu vaccine in previous years, it is not likely to protect you in the coming winter.

 

“People in the at-risk groups are more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia. If a pregnant woman gets flu, she is far more likely to be hospitalised than a woman who isn’t pregnant and getting flu could put her baby at risk of a premature birth, still birth or even death in the first weeks of life. The injected flu vaccine is safe to have regardless of the stage of pregnancy and some immunity will pass to the baby to provide protection against flu during their baby’s early weeks of life.”

The other two important groups recommended to have the annual flu vaccine at their GP surgery are:

  • those with an underlying medical condition, who run the risk of their condition getting worse if they catch flu (including long term respiratory disease such as asthma and chronic heart disease such as heart failure)
  • those aged 65 or over, who have weaker immune systems and are therefore more vulnerable to having more serious consequences in the event of contracting flu
 

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