Flu jab today protects against pandemic flu tomorrow

A hospital virologist today urged at-risk people to get their winter flu jabs to help prevent ordinary human influenza and avian flu mixing genetically to create a new and deadly pandemic flu strain.

A hospital virologist today urged at-risk people to get their winter flu jabs to help prevent ordinary human influenza and avian flu mixing genetically to create a new and deadly pandemic flu strain.

The free flu jab currently on offer to the over 65s, people with asthma and diabetes and health workers, does not protect against avian flu but virologists fear that if ordinary flu strikes people who are then also exposed to avian flu the result could be a recombinant pandemic strain. Getting the normal flu jab will reduce that possibility.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital consultant clinical scientist Dr Margaret Sillis said: “The current avian flu is unable to attach efficiently to human cells, hence its inability to transmit effectively from human to human. However, the 'ordinary' human flu can. People infected with 'ordinary flu' who then become exposed to avian flu may act as a 'mixing vessel' for the two which would allow recombination to occur.

“The fear is that all it takes is for the two types of flu to mix and that a resulting small change could determine if we get a pandemic or not. If we can reduce the potential for the current avian type to mix with another that can infect humans then it will help. So get vaccinated now to minimise that possibility”

Frontline health workers at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust's hospitals are being urged to get their free flu jabs at work in the run up to winter.

Last year saw a record 38 per cent of Trust staff get their flu jab and the aim this year is to increase that total. The national average for NHS staff having the flu jab is just 16 per cent.

Nurses will be vaccinating their colleagues on the wards and other staff will have access to flu jab clinics throughout October and November. Healthcare staff need to protect themselves from flu to keep staffing levels up in the event of a flu outbreak.

Deputy medical director Dr Simon Watkin said: “As NHS staff we have a duty to make sure we protect ourselves from flu so that we can carry on treating patients who need us. I've had my flu jab and I urge my colleagues to do the same. It only takes a few minutes and can be done while you are at work.”

Harry Seddon, UNISON branch secretary, said: “We support staff taking up their free flu jab. Not only can you steer clear of the flu yourself, but you can help avoid spreading it to patients, colleagues, and  – not least – taking it home to your family.”

Flu is highly infectious. A sneeze can carry the flu virus and, travelling at 80 miles per hour, reach distances of up to 30 feet away. Touching objects such as toys that have been coughed or sneezed on can also pass on flu.

The message for everyone is that 'If you knew about flu you'd get the jab'. The NHS also offers free flu jabs to over 65s and parents of children aged over six months with asthma, diabetes or weakened immunity due to disease or treatment. These groups in particular should make an appointment with their GP for their free annual flu jab.

The last UK flu epidemic occurred in 1989 and 20,000 people died as a result. You need to get vaccinated as early as possible because it takes about two weeks for you to develop the antibodies following the jab.

Flu facts and figures:

  • The flu jab contains no live virus so cannot give you flu.
  • In most years it is estimated that several thousand deaths are attributable to the complications of flu and around 10-15 percent of the population develop flu each year
  • At least another 20,000, and in cold winters 40,000, people die as a result of cold weather
  • Flu is highly infectious: 100,000 flu particles can be projected into the air with just one sneeze
  • In just 12 hours, the flu virus can invade 1 million of your nose and throat cells
  • The World Health Organisation maps flu viruses as they travel around the world and the vaccine is altered each year to ensure that it gives the best protection against the latest strains.

For more information about Flu, visit our Influenza page.

Wednesday 19th of October 2005 02:00:32 PM