England's top doctors have urged people to protect themselves
and their families from flu over the coming week amid warnings that
new cases may peak over the busy Christmas period.
While more people over the age of 65 have got their flu jab than
this time last year - the call to action from Professor Stephen
Powis, the NHS national medical director, and Professor Yvonne
Doyle, Public Health England's Medical Director, comes after a
warning from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, of
an increased risk of flu while the country celebrates Christmas,
Hanukah and the New Year.
As flu levels ramp up, alongside fresh calls for the public to
get protected, Public Health England (PHE) has activated the Catch
It, Bin It, Kill It campaign, to help prevent the spread of the
highly infectious disease.
Hundreds of thousands could see their holiday plans turn to
misery if flu levels rise as expected in late December and early
The latest surveillance data from PHE shows that GP
consultations for Influenza-like Illness have risen by 24% from
week 48 to week 49, while the impact of flu on hospitals was at
Flu can take its toll on anyone, so anyone can benefit from
getting a jab, but those aged over 65, young children, pregnant
women or those who have underlying medical conditions are
particularly vulnerable to complications requiring hospital
NHS teams in GP surgeries, A&E departments and hospital
wards are already seeing the number of people coming forward for
treatment increase, with some schools and care homes also reporting
Current evidence shows that vaccinations available this year are
well-matched to the main strain of flu circulating, so getting your
jab - or nasal spray for children - offers the best possible chance
of avoiding missing out on festivities.
But concerns remain for those who have yet to protect themselves
or their children, who can spread the virus from schools and
nurseries to family members even if they don't succumb to symptoms
Almost seven and a half million eligible children and adults
missed out on their free NHS vaccination last year.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director,
said: "Whether it's missing out on your Christmas dinner,
the Boxing Day match or a New Year's party, nobody wants to be laid
low by flu while the festivities are in full swing.
"It's good to see that more people over the age of 65 have
already got their jab. For older people and those with underlying
health conditions, getting flu is particularly bad news because it
can lead to really serious conditions like pneumonia and
bronchitis, which can mean a lengthy stay in hospital.
"And we know that children are 'super spreaders' of flu,
particularly around the holiday season when they're more likely to
see elderly relatives.
"So our message is simple: the flu season is here, get your jab
now. It might be the difference between a Christmas to remember,
and one to forget."
Due to delays in vaccine delivery from the manufacturer, vaccine
uptake among 2-3 year olds is lagging behind previous seasons; as
of the end of week 8 December, 28% of 2-3 year olds had received
The delays have now been resolved and PHE and NHS are urging
parents to contact their GP without delay.
Some schools programmes will not take place until very early
January, so PHE is also advising parents of at-risk children who
missed their school session or in situations where the school
programme is due in January, not to wait, and to contact their GP
today to arrange an appointment to get protected.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, PHE Medical Director,
said: "No one wants to see their children suffering with
flu - far from a common cold, flu can have serious consequences for
young children and those with underlying medical conditions.
"There's still a week before Christmas, parents of 2-3 year olds
or those with underlying medical conditions should not delay, get
your children vaccinated as soon as possible.
"To reduce the risk of spreading flu, use tissues to trap germs
when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often with warm water and
soap, and bin used tissues as quickly as possible. Catch it. Bin
it. Kill it."
The health service in England has prepared for its largest ever
flu protection drive to help keep people well and ease pressure on
urgent care services over the colder months.
The number of people eligible - ranging from toddlers to
pensioners - has topped 25 million.
Some of those who missed out last year went on to catch the
virus in the 2018/19 season and needed NHS treatment as a result,
with high numbers of hospital and intensive care admissions for
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty,
said: "The winter flu season has started early in the UK
and it is important that everyone who is eligible gets the flu jab
from their GP or pharmacist. The vaccine is the best defence
against flu whilst practising sensible hygiene can reduce the
spread of flu."
Respiratory problems were the single most common cause of a trip
to A&E for the over-65s in December 2018, closely followed by
cardiac conditions, which can also be made worse by a dose of
For most people, flu will pass within a few days with care at
home - tips are available on the NHS.uk website. But where people
have concerns about themselves or their loved ones, they can use
the free NHS 111 phone or online service to get advice on the best
course of action.
NHS-commissioned school vaccination teams, maternity services,
general practices and local pharmacies have all been working hard
since the autumn to deliver vaccines to primary school-aged
children, two and three-year olds, those with underlying health
conditions, pregnant women and people aged 65 years and over.
Frontline NHS healthcare workers, as well as care home and home
care teams, are also being urged to take up free vaccinations
offered through their employers, so that they reduce the risk of
passing on an infection to their vulnerable patients.
'The treatment I have received from all the staff has been
excellent and could you extend my thanks to them all. A very
thankful and relieved patient'.
Patient, Dermatology Outpatients Department, University Hospital
of North Durham