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'It’s not too late to get a flu jab - we need our staff fighting fit'

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Influenza is seen and anticipated every year all around the world. In the UK, experts use countries like Australia as a gauge of what the season likely has in store for us, explains Pat Cattini. 

Unfortunately, in 2017 Australia suffered a worse than average flu season and the early indications are that we will expect the same.

“It is worrying that vaccine uptake amongst healthcare workers remains a challenge”

Already there are reports of high levels of Flu in hospitals throughout the UK and with children back at school following the Christmas break, this may well get worse.

The old saying ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ still rings true: and avoiding contact with those who are symptomatic may well help protect us from picking up a nasty virus, however flu can be picked up from people who appear asymptomatic or from contact with contaminated surfaces.

Similarly, ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ is another golden rule: sneeze or cough into a tissue, bin the tissue and clean your hands properly. These are simple and effective anti-infection strategies, and they work.

As health professionals, there are standard infection prevention precautions that we can take at work, which are all very effective. These include frequent hand cleansing using alcohol hand rub, regular cleaning of our working environment, and the use of face masks when caring for patients with respiratory ‘coryzal’ symptoms.

All these measures will contribute to protecting you, your family and your patients from flu.

“Flu vaccination can prevent flu in many people. The more people that have it, the greater the ‘herd immunity’”

The number one way to reduce patient and staff sickness is flu vaccination with recent research showing a 10% increase in the vaccination associated with a 10% fall in sickness absence.

It is worrying that vaccine uptake amongst healthcare workers remains a challenge, particularly when an outbreak of flu within a hospital can cripple services and endanger lives.

Some health workers worry about the ill effects of having a vaccination, including achy joints and headaches, or have mistaken these symptoms for flu itself.

The intramuscular vaccine we use for adults is not a live vaccine and so cannot cause flu, however it tricks your body into thinking it has flu in order to illicit an immune response.

This may cause mild symptoms for a day or two and is a good sign that the body is preparing immunity for the future.

Some staff are worried that the vaccine isn’t a guarantee against infection, yet it’s important to consider the wider effects of being vaccinated, as every year you get the jab it adds to your immunity.

Combined with good infection prevention it can make a significant difference to keeping you and our health services functioning. We need you fighting fit and not fighting flu!

“It can make a significant difference to keeping you and our health services functioning”

Flu vaccination can prevent flu in many people. The more people that have it, the greater the ‘herd immunity’.

Data from Public Health England has shown that the paediatric flu vaccination programme cut cases in primary school children by a whopping 94% and also cut adult cases in the community by 59%.

It’s not too late. Your organisation will be able to offer you (in most cases) free vaccination at a time to suit you.

The Infection Prevention Society urges every member of the healthcare workforce to get the flu jab and prevent serious risk to themselves, and their patients and help keep vital health services running.

Pat Cattini, Vice President, the Infection Prevention Society 

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