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'Nurses and midwives are at the front line in preventing flu'

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You will no doubt have seen media coverage in recent days about the increase in flu levels, and so-called “Aussie flu” in particular.

Although the name of it is new, the strain it refers to is Flu A (H3N2), which we have seen in previous winter seasons in the UK for a number of years.

“We all have a professional duty to protect ourselves and those we care for, be it patients, residents or our own families”

The good news is that all vaccines offered to children and adults include coverage against this strain, and nurses and midwives play a key role in encouraging and supporting people to get vaccinated.

Most healthy people will recover from flu, however, it can be much more severe – and sometimes fatal – for individuals in ‘at-risk’ groups.

Pregnant women, young children, people over the age of 65 and those with serious long-term health conditions are all at a higher risk from either the effects of flu or spreading the infection.

Recent data shows that there is up to a 30% difference in vaccine uptake among these groups.

Nurses in all settings have a vital role to play. We call it the 3Ps – prevention, promotion, protection – and we do this at an individual, community and population level.

“The vaccine is the best defence we have against the spread of flu and it isn’t too late to get vaccinated”

We offer the vaccine to all of these groups, as well as children aged 2-8, who tend to be ‘super-spreaders’ of the virus and it’s really important that anyone eligible takes up the offer of the vaccine.

Access is an important factor that influences uptake. Those eligible can have their flu vaccine at their GP surgery or at a local pharmacy offering the service. Some midwifery services offer the vaccine to pregnant women.

You may have also seen recent reports that in some NHS trusts, as many as four in five frontline medical staff working in England’s hospitals have not been immunised.

We all have a professional duty to protect ourselves and those we care for, be it patients, residents or our own families.

In an open letter to staff across the country, senior health figures urged the take-up of a winter vaccination against a backdrop of rising numbers of patients with flu and respiratory illnesses to help staff best protect themselves and patients.

Flu-related staff sickness absence can significantly affect the ability to deliver services safely and effectively. Nurses, midwives and care staff form the largest staff body within health and social care.

By getting vaccinated yourself, you are not only making yourself less likely to be affected but you are also demonstrating your commitment to promoting wellbeing, and preventing ill health. The vaccine is the best defence we have against the spread of flu and it isn’t too late to get vaccinated.

“Nurses in all settings have a vital role to play”

Staying Well This Winter is an annual campaign that focuses on ways to look after ourselves during the winter months.

For anyone who has flu or a flu-type illness already, it is important to practice good respiratory hygiene to limit the spread of flu – hence the campaign stapline Catch It, Bin It, Kill It.

It is not too late for us to increase flu vaccination uptake. There are some excellent resources on the NHS Employers website, which includes campaign materials and resources on why it matters.

Tweet with the hashtag #FluFighters and share your success.

Viv Bennett is chief nurse at Public Health England 

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