Many of us have been making the most of what’s left of our summer. Thoughts of winter and seasonal flu haven’t been uppermost on our minds.
However, now is the time of year when we need to think seriously about seasonal flu and start making arrangement to have our flu vaccinations.
In the UK it is usually during the cold winter months that we are more likely to be infected. It is then that our immune systems can become lowered and if you are working offshore, it’s easier for flu to be passed around as you’ll be in close proximity to your colleagues for long periods.
Flu is highly contagious and is spread from one person to another by coughs and sneezes.
Symptoms may include a severe cough, sore throat, sneezing with a runny nose, shivering, fever, aching muscles, headache and generally feeling tired and unwell.
The symptoms can come on very quickly; one day you are feeling fit and the next just miserable.
Most people with flu do not require medical treatment and can recover at home but in severe cases, it can cause hospitalisation. Flu usually lasts for about a week but can leave a patient with post flu fatigue, which can lead to incapacitation for a longer period.
If you have flu-like symptoms and/or a high temperature, then you should not mobilise offshore but stay at home to rest and recover.
Last winter, there were overall, lower levels of flu activity in the UK and it might be tempting to think that this year will be the same.
However, it’s not possible to predict seasonal flu activity apart from the fact that it occurs each year and this season there could easily be serious flu outbreaks. It’s not a wise gamble to be complacent and just hope for the best.
A severe flu outbreak among an offshore working population could have a major impact on an installation’s operations but the good news is that it is largely preventable with the flu vaccination being our main line of defence. Good hygiene and keeping our immune systems strong and healthy will also help.
The flu virus changes every year. New variants and strains can emerge which is one reason why we need to have an annual flu vaccination.
Each year, a new safe and effective seasonal flu vaccine is developed based upon strains of the virus most prevalent in the community.
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. The best time to have your flu vaccination is between September and November ahead of the winter months.
Starting in 2014, all children in the UK aged 2-17 will be offered flu vaccinations using a nasal spray. Apart from helping our children to avoid the miseries of flu, this new initiative will benefit the wider population by providing “herd immunity” so that fewer of us will come into contact with the virus.
The UK is thought to be the first country where free flu vaccinations will be available to children and it is hoped that this measure should result annually in 11,000 fewer people needing to be hospitalised and 2,000 fewer deaths.
Simple hand-washing can help prevent the spread of flu as our hands can distribute germs to every surface we come in contact with.
The “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it” campaign still holds true and we need to remember to carry tissues with us to catch coughs and sneezes and then bin them. Thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water afterwards will help to slow down the spread of flu.
Keeping fit and healthy adds to our resilience and by eating a healthy balanced diet, taking regular exercise and not smoking we can keep our immune systems robust.
Whether we are looking to protect just ourselves or a large workforce, now is the time to start planning flu vaccination arrangements. Flu vaccinations should be administered by a qualified nurse and delivered to the highest clinical standards. For ease of service delivery, it is advised that vaccinations should be provided when staff are onshore.
Dr Jonathan O’Keeffe is medical director at International SOS