Belfast Telegraph

Don't let flu catch up on you!

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When you’re pregnant you try to do everything you possibly can to look after yourself and your growing baby.

So with Autumn well and truly under way now is a good time to plan ahead for the colder weather which can bring with it many coughs, sneezes and shivers and think about protecting both yourself and your baby this winter.

With this in mind the Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging all pregnant women to get their free flu vaccine as soon as possible before the winter really sets in.

Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection with the PHA, said: “The flu virus spreads very easily and quickly through the air when people cough and sneeze so anyone can come into contact with the virus. Pregnant women and their babies are more likely to have serious complications if they catch flu which is why they are invited by their GP to get vaccinated at all stages of pregnancy to protect them and their unborn baby.

“With busy lives juggling work, looking after a family and all the other commitments you have it can be easy to forget about your own health, especially when you feel fit and well, however, flu can catch up on you as we can never be sure when the flu virus starts to spread. Some years it comes earlier than others which is why it is important to be prepared and to make sure you get the vaccine as early on in the season as possible.”

Once you have been vaccinated with the flu vaccine about 10 days later your body makes antibodies to the vaccine viruses. These antibodies help to protect you against similar viruses you then come into contact with. That is why you don’t want to wait until flu arrives here as it may be too late for the vaccine to protect you.

Dr Smithson continued: “There is a wealth of evidence to show the flu vaccine is safe and effective at all stages of pregnancy and that it also protects both the mother and her baby for the first few months after birth which is a particularly vulnerable time. The vaccination programme starts in October and I would advise all pregnant women, whatever their stage of pregnancy to get vaccinated.”

This year the flu vaccination campaign is being extended to include all healthy two and three year olds born between 2 September 2009 and 1 September 2011 along with all those children in Primary 6 at school. Eventually all children aged 2 to 16 years will be offered the vaccine to help protect them from flu and reduce its spread.

Dr Smithson said: “Flu for children is just as awful and unpleasant as it is for adults with fever, chills, aching muscles, headaches and extreme tiredness. These symptoms can last two to seven days and for some can lead to serious illness and result in a stay in hospital which can cause anxiety and upheaval for the whole family particularly if one or both parents catches flu as well.”

Most children will have the vaccine via a quick and painless nasal spray which has been shown to provide greater protection for children than the flu injection. Primary six will have the vaccination at school while two and three year olds will receive the vaccination through their local GP surgery.

The flu vaccination also protects those most at risk from serious complications including those over 65 years of age, any child or adult with a serious medical condition, children attending schools for children with learning difficulties, children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection and anyone living in a residential or nursing home.

Flu’s more serious than you think. For more information about the free flu vaccine visit www.fluawareni.info

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From Belfast Telegraph