DOCTOR CALLING: By Dr Kevin Hill
This time of the year it’s hard to avoid common winter illnesses like coughs, colds and flu. Those that are generally fit and healthy usually feel better within a week or two. But if you have a weakened immune system you’re less able to fight off infections which can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and even a hospital stay.
If you have a weakened immune system it’s often due to:
n immunosuppression from a disease or treatment, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy which suppresses the immune system;
n bone marrow transplant;
n HIV infection at all stages; and
n multiple myeloma or genetic disorders affecting the immune system.
So, South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group is urging those in this at risk group to protect themselves this winter by offering advice about how to stay well.
Each year, tens of thousands of people are hospitalised because of flu. In winter 2013/14, over 900 people were admitted to hospital and 10 per cent of all patients admitted died as a result of the flu virus. 1
Dr Kevin Hill, Chair of NHS South Lincolnshire CCG, said: “If you have a weakened immune system due to cancer, chemotherapy or HIV, or you’re taking certain medications, your immune system is unable to fight off infections like most people so it’s important to protect yourself against flu.
“One of the most effective ways is to get a free flu vaccination from your local GP. It’s still the best protection against flu. Even if you’ve had the vaccination before it’s important to get it again because the type of virus in circulation changes every year, so the vaccine changes, too.”
As well as the flu vaccination there are other things you can do to stay well:
• Eat healthy foods and get regular exercise to keep your immune system strong.
n Stop smoking as your immune system is less effective in fighting all types of infections, whether flu, pneumonia, or any bacteria or virus that attacks you.
• Have an annual flu jab to minimise the risk of getting seriously ill.
• Wash your hands properly and frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or alcohol based rub.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Try to avoid contact with sick people.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the bin after you use it.
• Manage your condition. Take your medication and follow the treatment plan as recommended by your health care provider.
It’s important that if you do become ill you get help early before symptoms get worse because you may need medication to treat or prevent any complications of flu. So, speak to your GP or healthcare provider for advice.
NHS111 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can also advise you about what to do and where to go if you need urgent medical attention. All you have to do is dial 111 to be put through to the NHS.
For more winter health advice, visit www.nhs.uk/staywell