Flu sufferers told to stay at home

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People with flu were today urged to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus and swamping hospitals and doctors surgeries.

The plea came from Paul Edmondson-Jones, the director of public health and primary care for NHS Portsmouth, as the extent of the flu virus sweeping the country was revealed.

Figures for the south area, which covers Portsmouth and Hampshire, show there are 35 people in critical care beds because of flu.

But Dr Edmondson-Jones said there are many more cases in the community and there is a danger GP surgeries and hospitals are being stretched beyond their capabilities.

He said: 'The message is very much for people to stay at home and not to just pitch up at their doctors surgery or the emergency department.

'If you have flu and go to your doctors, you will merely spread it.

'The vast majority of people do not need to go anywhere near a doctor and can manage it at home.

'All you need to do is stay at home, keep warm, rest, drink plenty of fluids, go to bed if you have to, and take some paracetamol. If you need medicine, see if a friend or relative can get it for you.

'If you need advice, ring up, don't turn up. We live in an IT age so let's use it. Use the telephone and go on the internet for advice.

'If your symptoms are more serious and you have chest pains for instance, or you are in one of the at-risk groups who need the flu vaccine, then seek advice. But do not go to the top of the chain, to A&E first, start at the bottom of the scale with NHS Direct or calling your doctor.'

Nationally the GP consultation rate for flu like illnesses has dropped recently, but with children returning to schools this week and people going back to work, experts predict there could be a rise in the number of cases.

Some people who have suffered complications from flu, have had to be admitted to hospital.

And the Health Protection Agency yesterday announced that there had been 50 deaths from flu – 45 of which were swine flu.

Swine flu is one of the main types of flu around this year and about 50 per cent of patients visiting their doctors with flu in this area, have the swine flu strain.

But Dr Edmondson-Jones says there is no need to panic.

He said: 'There is a lot of flu around at the moment and people are getting a bit frightened but there is no reason to panic. The number of deaths is incredibly small and people should not be alarmed.

'People do not need to panic about swine flu either. There are always a number of different types of flu circulating and swine flu is just one of them.'

He added: 'The people we are seeing in hospital and those who are becoming seriously ill, are people who've got co-existing health problems.'

Flu is expected to be around into February and possibly March.

There are still many people across the area who are entitled to the free flu jab but have not taken up the offer.

Dr Edmondson-Jones said: 'We would ask everyone in the at-risk groups who have not had the jab to call their doctor.

'There is enough vaccine. Some practices may say they have not got any vaccine. But it's just a case of moving stocks around. If your surgery says it doesn't have any at the moment, then just ask to book in for the next vaccine clinic.'

HELP IS AT HAND FOR THOSE SUFFERING

Flu affects thousands of people every year.

Its symptoms are worse than a cold and can leave you needing to spend days in bed.

Symptoms of flu and swine flu include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Diarrhoea and vomiting are more common with swine flu.

If you have flu the best advice is to stay at home and self-treat the virus by:

getting plenty of rest

drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids

taking medication, containing paracetamol, to relieve flu symptoms, which you can get over the counter from a pharmacist.

But some people will be more affected by flu than others, and suffer complications and may even need to be admitted to hospital.

These people are considered at-risk patients who need to have the flu jab to get protection against the virus.

People in this category, who are entitled to a free flu vaccine on the NHS, include;

over 65s

adults and children (over six months old) with medical conditions including heart disease, respiratory problems including asthma, diabetes, neurological conditions, and anyone with lowered immunity for example, those have treatment for cancer

carers of vulnerable patients

pregnant women – because the jab offers protection against swine flu.

Gill Walton, the head of midwifery at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said: 'No matter what stage of your pregnancy, we are urging all women to have the flu vaccine.

'Pregnant women have been found to suffer more serious complications with the H1N1, swine flu strain. So that is why they are now being offered the free vaccine. If you can prevent getting it and protect yourself, then it's definitely worth it.'

For those who do get swine flu, you will not automatically be given Tamiflu.

The Department of Health is advising doctors to only give the medication out to at-risk patients who fall ill with swine flu and who may suffer complications. For advice call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or visit nhsdirect.nhs.uk