Public Health Wales is urging anyone from the age of six months upwards with a long term health condition to get protected against flu with a free NHS vaccination.

People with chronic medical conditions are more at risk than others from complications of flu, including pneumonia.

Conditions that can put people more at risk include diabetes, heart and kidney disease, neurological conditions such as stroke and mini stroke and respiratory problems like COPD.  People whose spleen doesn’t work properly, and those who are morbidly obese, are also more vulnerable.

Flu can be very serious and every year people in Wales end up in hospital or intensive care units with flu.

Dr Anthony Gibson, consultant physician and clinical director medicine and A & E at Cwm Taf University Health Board said: “Please do not underestimate how serious influenza can be, especially if you have other long term health conditions.

“If you are eligible for a free NHS flu jab, ensure you have one.”

The influenza viruses that circulate and cause illness each winter change and therefore each year the flu vaccine is changed to try and match the circulating strains, in order to give best protection. That is why it is important to have a flu vaccine each year.

Most NHS flu vaccines are given in GP surgeries, but the vaccination is also widely available for adults in many community pharmacies across Wales.

Morbidly obese adults (those with a BMI over 40) are eligible to have a free NHS flu jab and Caroline Bovey, Chair of the British Dietetic Association’s Wales Board is keen to encourage them to take advantage of it:

“Influenza is a serious illness caused by a virus that affects the lungs and airways. Symptoms generally come on suddenly, and can include fever, chills, headache, cough, muscle aches and fatigue. For those with severe obesity, the immune system can be affected and as a result influenza can be very serious and can sometimes be deadly.

”Don’t risk it – ensure you have your jab today.”

The influenza virus is spread via droplets which are sprayed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Direct contact with contaminated hands or surfaces can also spread infection. It can spread rapidly, especially in closed communities such as hospitals, residential homes and schools.

Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales, said:

“Each year influenza viruses circulate, causing many people to be ill and some to face life-threatening situations. Last year in intensive care units in Wales there were 74 patients with confirmed influenza.

“The influenza viruses that circulate and make people ill each winter change regularly, and vaccine protection fades over time, so if you are in a risk group and had the vaccine last year, it is still important to get vaccinated this year to best protect yourself.

“Influenza can be serious, particularly to those with long term health conditions.  Getting vaccinated offers the best protection, so make sure it is top of your to-do list this winter.”

Find out more by visiting www.beatflu.org or www.curwchffliw.org or finding Beat Flu or Curwch Ffliw on Twitter and Facebook.

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