Winter is coming, to coin a phrase, and with it the dreaded influenza season. It’s never easy to predict how badly affected we’re going to be by the strain of flu that arrives. But what we do know is that flu is highly infectious and the spread of the virus within health care settings is a huge concern.
We also know that people die from flu every year. Even those who were previously healthy can develop complications which, in some cases, can be severe such as bronchitis, secondary bacterial pneumonia, meningitis and encephalitis.
The risk is even higher in those who have other illnesses, the elderly and pregnant women. We know that health care staff can transmit the virus and, as a result, put their patients at risk of developing serious complications from the flu.
That’s why the Royal College of Nursing is calling on all staff to get vaccinated to help beat the flu this winter. We’re encouraging nursing staff to take part in the RCN’s social media campaign to help beat the flu and to raise awareness of the benefits of the vaccine.
It’s recommended that anyone who works in health and social care and is directly involved in patient care, should have the flu vaccine. So all frontline staff should get the vaccine because it is a simple way to avoid or reduce the effects of catching the flu.
There has been a steady increase in vaccine uptake within health care staff over the last few years, but there are still too many staff who are not protecting themselves and their patients.
The RCN says it’s a professional responsibility for all nursing staff to have the flu vaccine to help protect vulnerable patients and clients. The RCN also believes the flu vaccine should be freely available to nursing students, not only to protect them and their patients, but to instil best practice in the healthcare professionals of the future.
Our health service workforce is already stretched to near breaking point due to high vacancy rates and shortages of staff. A big jump in the number of staff off sick with flu puts greater strain on the system, leaving those still at work to face even greater demands and pressure.
Scotland’s chief medical officer and chief nursing officer are strongly encouraging staff to get vaccinated against flu. The NHS has a target of 60 per cent of frontline staff to be get the vaccination in an effort to beat the flu this year and in the future.
There are lots of commons myths and misconceptions surrounding the flu vaccine. Many people believe it is not as effective as other vaccines, but there is strong evidence to show that immunisation reduces severe illness.
People who keep themselves fit and are generally healthy most of the time may still experience mild or even no symptoms, but they will still be infectious and can spread the disease.
Other people fear they will contract flu from the vaccine itself. But, while side effects may include feeling a bit unwell and a slight temperature, these are short lived. The vaccine cannot give you flu and is continually tested and monitored.
The flu vaccine is effective in preventing influenza and could be the difference between life and death.
So let’s beat the flu by taking responsibility for our own health. That way we can protect the health of others too.
Eileen McKenna is associate director of RCN Scotland