Influenza activity in Northern Ireland has increased in recent weeks. While this increase is expected at this time of year, it reinforces the need for people who are ‘at risk’ to get the vaccine as soon as possible. The Public Health Agency (PHA) is also taking this opportunity to remind the public to do their bit in helping to stop flu germs spreading.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “We have seen a rise in the number of seasonal flu cases and although numbers are not as high as that seen during the 2010/11 winter flu period, it is still important that every effort is made to prevent flu transmission in the community. The PHA would like to advise the public of how everyone can play their part in preventing the spread of this highly infectious disease.
“Receiving the seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting the virus. So, if you are in an ‘at-risk’ group, get the vaccine now – it’s still not too late.
“I’m pleased to see so many pregnant women protecting themselves and their unborn babies. However, I would encourage those who haven’t got the vaccine yet and are still thinking about it, to get it as soon as possible. Also, if you have just found out you are pregnant, make an appointment with your GP to get the free jab.
“We know that flu can have serious consequences for both a pregnant mother and her baby. However, there is a wealth of evidence to show that the vaccine is safe and effective at all stages of pregnancy and that it also protects both the mother and her baby for the first few months after birth – a particularly vulnerable time.
“We are delighted with how well the vaccination programme has gone so far, but there are still some people who haven’t been vaccinated and we would encourage them to get it as soon as possible. Flu can be unpredictable so we would urge the public to take a positive role in protecting their own health and get the flu vaccine.
“If you do get flu this year, the PHA’s advice is to stay at home and don’t spread your infection to others. Rest, drink plenty of fluids and use over-the-counter remedies if they make you feel more comfortable. GPs and hospitals are busy dealing with flu cases, so I would emphasise that people should stay at home and contact their GP only if their condition worsens or if they are in an ‘at risk’ group or pregnant and not recovering. Do not visit relatives or friends in hospital if you are sneezing, have a cough or have other symptoms of flu-like illness.”
The PHA is also emphasising that good hand hygiene is a key way to reduce the spread of flu – using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, disposing of the tissue, and washing your hands regularly.
For more information on seasonal flu, go to www.fluawareni.info and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
For media enquiries contact the PHA Communication Office on 028 9055 3663
Notes to the editor
For more information about the flu vaccine for 2012/13, visit www.fluawareni.info or speak to your GP/nurse or member of staff at the antenatal clinic in your local Health and Social Care Trust.