FEWER people have come forward to receive the flu jab in West Sussex this year, but the number of people catching the virus is no higher than in previous years.
Data released by NHS West Sussex states that last winter 70 per cent of people aged over 65 had the flu vaccine and 49 per of people in at risk groups (pregnant women, people with diabetes, chronic heart, lung, kidney, nervous system or liver disease, people with reduced immune systems as the result of treatment or illness) had the jab.
This year to date, 67 per cent of over 65s and 41 per cent of people in at risk groups have seen their doctors to receive the jab and it is still available free for these people.
However, although the number of flu patients has increased in recent weeks, this is no different so far to any other year in the Horsham area, in contrast to outbreaks elsewhere in the country.
On Tuesday there were eight people with any type of flu in critical care beds in East Surrey Hospital, Redhill, Worthing Hospital and St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester.
Dr Nick Kendall, immunisation lead at NHS West Sussex, said: “The number of people in hospital being treated for seasonal flu is rising but that is to be expected at this time of the year.
“People should not be unduly concerned but it does show that the effects of flu are not to be underestimated. Flu is not the same as getting a cold and can seriously affect your health.
“The NHS is well prepared for the busy winter period and so, although demand for services is increasing, on the whole the system is coping well. Staff are working extremely hard to ensure patients get the care they need.
“If we do get the predicted surge in the number of people unwell with flu symptoms this week as people go back to work and school, there is no concern that anyone needing specialist care in hospital will not receive it - there is some way to go before we reach the peak.
“However, it does show just how important it is for people at risk of becoming very unwell from flu to get protected against it.
“I strongly recommend that pregnant women, those who are over 65, and people who are in an at risk group contact their GP or practice nurse now, to make sure they get their free seasonal flu vaccine. The flu season could continue for several more weeks so it is important anyone eligible does make sure they get vaccinated.”
NHS advice is that if someone thinks they have flu they should stay at home, keep warm, rest, drink plenty of fluids and take over-the-counter remedies.
Going to the GP or A&E is unlikely to be necessary, may involve waiting a long time to see a doctor and could spread the virus to others in worse health than you.
Children who have a fever and flu like symptoms should be kept off school until the fever has subsided; this can take between two and seven days.
However for some people, both children and adults, flu can be dangerous and can lead to serious complications.
The key things to watch out for include increasing difficulty breathing, for example unable to complete a sentence when talking, if a child is sucking their skin in between their ribs when breathing, brown or bloody phlegm, sharp chest pains that make it difficult to breathe or cough, severe earache or unusual changes in behaviour such as new confusion or if the person who is unwell becomes so drowsy that they have difficulty with eating, drinking or talking.
“If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, you should seek medical help urgently,’’ says the NHS.