With the MET office predicting that 2013 is going to be the coldest winter Britain has seen in up to 60 years, Chester, along with many other cities are preparing for the cold snap.
Cold weather comes hand-in-hand with poor health, especially amongst the very old, very young and particularly vulnerable groups.
Chester is offering the seasonal flu vaccination in an attempt to reduce the number of people affected by the disease this year. Every year up to 20% of the population will get seasonal influenza, more commonly known as flu and, although the severity of the disease varies massively, in more serious cases it can be fatal.
Local GP surgeries throughout the city are holding flu vaccination clinics and offering them to those who fall within the ‘at risk’ category for free. The vaccine can also be purchased through many pharmacies for an average of £12 for those who are worried about the flu but don’t qualify for the free vaccination.
Those who are classed as ‘at risk’ include those over 65, pregnant women, those with serious health conditions and those who work on the frontline in health or social care. The vaccine is effective in 7 out of 10 people in either preventing or lessening the symptoms of the disease.
Pregnant women are at increased risk of developing complications from influenza and the vaccination has been proven to be safe during all trimesters.
Those with serious medical conditions such as chronic respiratory disease, including asthma, kidney, liver or heart disease or those with past or present neurological disorders such as a stoke will be offered the vaccine by their GP. This is due to their lowered immune system increasing the risk of complications.
In Chester city centre all six GP surgeries are offering vaccinations either during ‘drop-in’ sessions or following an appointment with the doctor.
It has been suggested by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that all children between the age of two and 17 should receive the flu vaccine annually. They suggest use of a nasal spray instead of a jab but the scheme isn’t coming into play until at least 2014.
If you aren’t entitled to the flu jab and don’t decide to buy one it is important to keep a close eye for symptoms, especially in young children. The main indicator of the disease is a fever, usually classed as 38 degrees or above, headache, muscle aches, cough and loss of appetite. Like the common cold these symptoms will last up to 8 days before beginning to decrease in severity. As a general rule, there is no need to visit the GP if you think you have flu.
The most important factor in treating the flu is remaining hydrated as dehydration will make a person feel even worse. Other treatment includes rest, keeping warm and getting plenty of sleep.
Contrary to common belief, having a cold is not the same thing as having the flu. Student Emma Pearson suffered from influenza in 2012 and said; “Having flu is so different from having a cold. I couldn’t get out of bed for four days and slept practically the whole time, I was so exhausted. My mum told me to imagine there was £500 at the end of the bed which you could have if you sat up and got it, if you are too weak to even be tempted than you have ‘real’ flu.”
Although there is no fool-proof way to prevent the flu this winter the NHS suggest a increased vigilance in hygiene, simple things like using anti bacterial hand wash regularly will really help. The ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ campaign from 2012 is also still relevant. Sneezing into a tissue reduces the amount of water droplets that enter the air and spread the disease.
GP Howard Bentley said; “Every year we are told its going to be the coldest winter since records began and, every year, people panic about the flu. Yes, it can be serious but, as a general rule, flu will make you feel awful for a few days and then it will get better.” He added, “there is normally no need to visit your GP unless your symptoms have been going on longer than two weeks and are getting worse rather than better. Having said this, if you are offered the flu jab because you are more susceptible than the average person, it makes good sense to have it done.”
Within the Chester area the vaccine is available via the GP or over the counter in many pharmacies.