Public Health Wales is reporting that the flu season in Wales has begun earlier than usual this year. It means that levels of flu in the community may peak around Christmas. Public health experts are urging those who are eligible for a free flu vaccine to take up the offer now, to help protect themselves and others from getting seriously ill with flu this Christmas
Catching flu increases the risk of becoming severely unwell with secondary infections, so one of the steps you can take to protect your children and all vulnerable family members from infections like Strep A, is to take up the offer of a free flu vaccine for your child and any eligible adult.
In the past few weeks, flu has been detected circulating in the community in Wales. Cases have also been confirmed in patients attending hospitals. Getting the flu vaccine will help protect individuals and the NHS through what is likely to be a challenging winter. As well as flu, Public Health Wales is also detecting high levels of other respiratory viruses circulating widely in the community. Wales is already experiencing its second season of RSV* this year (a common cause of bronchiolitis in toddlers and young children).
Since March 2020, the normal pattern of circulation of many respiratory viruses was disrupted and as our lives are going back to normal, some viruses are returning in higher numbers.
Flu is a serious illness that can kill. Deaths and severe outcomes of flu infection are seen in every season. In the last season which saw very high levels of circulation (in 2017/18) the number of excess seasonal deaths estimated in Wales during the winter was 3,400, the highest in more than 20 years. Not all of these deaths would have been due to respiratory disease, but Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 34.7% of excess deaths reported in England and Wales that winter were caused by respiratory disease. The highest number of weekly deaths coincided with the peak week of influenza activity.
The flu vaccine is the most effective way of preventing being infected with flu. Its side effects are mild and usually only last for a few days. Vaccination is particularly important for those who are older, pregnant, or have a health condition and are more vulnerable to complications as a result of the infections. It is also very important that frontline healthcare workers and those who work in care homes or providing care in peoples own homes get their vaccines to help reduce spread.
Dr Christopher Johnson, Consultant Epidemiologist and Interim Head of Public Health Wales’ Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme says; “Flu can be serious, particularly for those who are older or have a health condition and are more vulnerable to complications as a result of the flu. We often socialise more at Christmas and are more likely to see vulnerable elderly relatives. Vaccinations are the best way to protect ourselves and loved ones from getting seriously ill this winter.”
In addition, the Covid-19 autumn booster programme is live and many people including everyone over 50 years old, and those at risk of severe disease have been offered a Covid-19 booster to reduce their chances of getting seriously ill with Covid-19. Statistics published earlier this week show that over a million people in Wales have now received their COVID-19 booster vaccination this autumn.
To help stop flu and other viruses spreading, remember to ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it.’
Flu vaccines are available free from your local GP and also from many community pharmacies. If you fall into an eligible group please talk to your GP surgery or community pharmacy.
For more information about how to get the vaccines, please visit Flu vaccine and COVID-19 Autumn Booster - Public Health Wales (nhs.wales)/.