HEALTH chiefs across Lancashire are warning about the threat of flu as statistics show fewer at-risk people have been vaccinated against the illness this year.
Latest figures from Public Health England show hospitals are seeing increasing numbers of people with breathing and chest problems as a result of flu.
However, so far across Lancashire and South Cumbria just 42% of pregnant women and 41.1% of people aged under 65 who are at risk have had their flu vaccination - down on the same time last year.
Health professionals warn that flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people within the first five days of catching the virus. It is different from a cold and can cause severe illness and even lead to death. It can also cause long-term damage to the lungs.
Professor Mark O’Donnell, medical director at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Flu is a very unpleasant, highly infectious disease, which can be very serious especially during pregnancy for both mums-to-be and their babies.
“The vaccine is the best defence we have against the spread of flu and it isn’t too late for people to go to their GP or pharmacist and get vaccinated - especially those in risk groups such as pregnant women; those aged 65 and over; people with long-term medical conditions; and young children (up to three years old). The latter are also known as ‘super-spreaders’ and if left unimmunised could spread flu to those they come into contact with.
“We often hear from women concerned the vaccine will harm their baby but current evidence shows it is safe during pregnancy and pregnant women should ask their midwife, GP or pharmacist about the flu vaccine.’’
Dr Anjila Shah, consultant in health protection at public health England North West, added: “We know that uptake of the flu vaccination is slightly down compared to the same time last year. The vaccine is the best defence we have against the spread of flu and early indications suggest that the flu vaccines are well matched to the strains of flu likely to circulate this year.
“We urge anyone who is eligible to take up the offer of a free flu vaccine and protect themselves. It isn’t too late for people to get vaccinated at their GP or local pharmacy - especially pregnant women, those aged 65.”
Good levels of uptake of the flu vaccine also helps to reduce serious health consequences and hospitalisation amongst at-risk groups, as well as GP appointments and pressure on A&E departments.
The flu vaccination is available for free on the NHS from your local GP if you fall into one of the at-risk categories.