Opinion

Preparing for seasonal flu

Jeremy Cresswell

FOR most people who are unfortunate enough to catch seasonal flu it is a very nasty experience, but for some it can have serious consequences.

During last winter’s UK influenza outbreak, a reported 602 people died, with more than 70% of fatalities reported among the young or middle-aged.

Flu is traditionally considered to be an illness with more serious consequences for older people, but last winter the ongoing presence of the pandemic flu virus swine flu) H1N1 made a difference, as the elderly often have some resistance to swine flu and were not so badly affected.

Where information was available on the strain of infection, more than 90% of the 602 deaths were H1N1 related. (Health Protection Agency figures). Symptoms of flu may include a severe cough, sore throat, sneezing with a runny nose, shivering, fever, aching muscles, headache and generally feeling tired and unwell.

Flu usually lasts for about a week, but can leave a patient feeling tired and under the weather for some time after.

The symptoms can come on very quickly, leaving individuals feeling fit one day and terrible the next.

Most people do not require medical treatment and can recover at home, but in severe cases it can lead to hospitalisation.

If you have flu-like symptoms and/or a high temperature, you should not mobilise offshore but stay at home to rest and recover.

The flu virus can cause infections at any time in the year, but here in the UK it is most common to be ill during winter. We are more susceptible then, partly because our immune systems can be low, and also because when it’s cold we tend to flock together.

If you are working offshore, you’ll be in close proximity to your colleagues for long periods and that’s an ideal opportunity for flu to get passed from one to another.

Unless we are prepared to go into total isolation for the winter, then it’s almost impossible to avoid coming across flu viruses. So what can we do to protect ourselves?

There is no guaranteed protection but we can keep our immune systems strong by generally looking after ourselves by eating a healthy, balanced diet, taking regular exercise, relaxing whenever possible and not smoking.

Watch out for people who are coughing and sneezing and not covering their mouths and noses. The best way to avoid catching flu is to make sure we are vaccinated.

Whether we are looking to protect ourselves or a large workforce, it’s now time to plan your vaccination arrangements. It may seem strange to start thinking about seasonal flu at the tail end of summer, but now really is the time to start planning.

The best time for flu vaccinations is between September and November.

Each year a new safe and effective seasonal flu vaccine is developed based upon strains of virus most prevalent in the community.

Flu is a preventable illness and all are encouraged to get vaccinated before this winter’s flu season begins.

Seasonal flu vaccine is routinely recommended for those aged 65 or over and those with the following conditions regardless of age: chronic respiratory disease, heart, renal and liver disease, diabetes requiring insulin or tablets, and those with impaired immune systems. Vaccination is also recommended for pregnant women.

Vaccination can’t guarantee that you won’t get seasonal flu, but in the highly unlikely event that you do the illness will be in a milder form. Side effects from the flu vaccination are rare and minor in comparison with the risks associated with actually having seasonal flu.

We still hear some people saying that they won’t have the vaccination because they’re worried it will give them a bout of the very illness they’re trying to avoid. Wrong. Vaccine doesn’t contain live viruses and therefore cannot cause the flu that it is protecting against.

A flu vaccination needs to be administered by a qualified nurse and delivered to the highest clinical standards.

So, for ease of service delivery, it is advised that vaccinations should be provided while staff are onshore.

Kelly Paterson is an occupational advisor at Abermed

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