As our freak heat wave comes to an end, the dreaded colds and flu will soon follow. Sneezes are already starting to resound around offices, homes, schools, and public transport. So will you be getting a flu jab?
Influenza is not to be sniffed at (sorry). Though many of us declare flu at the mere sound of a sniffle (guilty as charged), full blown (sorry again) flu is no fun. When I had flu in 2000, I was bed-bound and borderline delirious for a week.
NHS Choices has a good “what’s the difference” video, but in essence, flu comes on suddenly, gives you a very high temperature, headache, tiredness and general aches and pains.
On the other hand, the common cold (am I the only person who’d like a posh cold once in a while?) is more about the runny nose, cough and sneezes (“bless you”). However, both are highly infectious and spread rapidly.
The risk of influenza
While a cold may only make you think you’re going to die (I do a good line in melodrama) flu can be very serious for the very old, very young and those with underlying health conditions. Complications, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, are more common in these at-risk people.
And some strains are particularly virulent, such as those that combine with viruses from other animals (most notably pigs and birds), due to our bodies not having immunity to these strains when they first appear. Around 600 people die each year from seasonal flu – during a pandemic this will increase.
While there are only three main flu virus types (Type A, Type B and Type C) the viruses mutate, so a new vaccine is needed each and every year. Which is why those at risk require a flu jab on a yearly basis.
Do we need a national flu jab campaign?
I recently saw that the Department of Health’s flu jab information campaign will not materialise for a second year running. Senior doctors are up in arms at the news. They feel it’s negligent and could lead to those at-risk groups not getting a jab, potentially leading to greater numbers of complications and even deaths. While a campaign would be a good idea, I can see that the cost versus overall benefit might be prohibitive.
I’m very proactive about getting my jab and personally feel there are plenty of opportunities for people to be reminded about getting it. I’m reminded at my annual asthma check and there are always posters in the local pharmacy or my GP surgery if I forget. My GP also has a message to their phone on-hold system.
Moreover, with news stories about potential cold cures at two a penny, or if swine or bird flu looks like even a small risk of becoming an epidemic or pandemic, the media tends to do the campaign for free.
So do you think there should be a national campaign to remind people to get their flu jab? Or do you think GP surgeries should simply contact the people who are at risk? Perhaps you think we shouldn’t need reminding at all?