PHA urging people to avail of free flu and COVID-19 vaccines

Flu and other respiratory illnesses are currently circulating and are likely to continue to increase in coming weeks. High numbers of scarlet fever, which is caused by group A streptococcus, also continue to be reported.

With this in mind, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is offering some simple advice to us get through winter and reminding everyone that hand hygiene and self-care are essential when preventing and managing winter illnesses.

The PHA is urging all people eligible for the free flu and COVID-19 vaccines, who have not yet been vaccinated, to get it now and is particularly calling on the parents of pre-school and school-aged children to get them vaccinated against flu.

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Evidence shows that the flu vaccine for children can provide direct protection to them and will also reduce the amount of flu circulating, thus providing indirect protection for older people and individuals with underlying health conditions.

PHA urging people who are eligible for flu and Covid-19 vaccine to get it.

Dr Joanne McClean, Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “Group A streptococcus usually results in a relatively mild illness. Rarely, when the bacteria get into blood it can cause a more serious illness referred to as invasive Group A streptococcal infection. Having a viral infection such as flu at the same time as Group A streptococcal infection increases the risk of developing the more serious invasive disease. The flu vaccine reduces the risk of having flu and group A Strep infections at the same time. The PHA strongly recommends children who are eligible get the flu vaccine – it’s the best way to protect them from serious illness. The flu vaccine for children has an excellent safety record, this includes the nasal spray given to school-aged children and pre-schoolers, which has been given to millions of children in the UK and worldwide.

“Following some simple steps can help protect children, minimise the spread of illness in education and childcare settings and protect wider communities. If your child is unwell and has a fever, they should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved.

“Good hand and respiratory hygiene is also key, so practice regular handwashing with soap and warm water. Catching coughs and sneezes in tissues then binning them is another simple way to help stop illness from spreading and make sure to wash your hands afterwards.

“Adults with symptoms of a respiratory infection and a high temperature or who do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out your normal activities should stay at home and avoid contact with other people and should not visit others in health and social care settings. Resting, drinking plenty of fluids and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen will ease your symptoms and help you recover. If you are concerned about your symptoms or they are getting worse contact your GP. In an emergency dial 999.”

Remember that flu and COVID-19 vaccinations are still available for all eligible groups and are the best protection against the viruses.

For most, flu is a mild illness that can be treated at home with rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking medicine, such as paracetamol, as directed to control the symptoms.

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More information on staying well and managing your symptoms can be found at www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/flu.