DOCTORS have fired a winter warning to Lothian residents following concerns over a low uptake of flu jabs and a surge in norovirus cases.
The latest figures have revealed that only 42 per cent of under-65s in at-risk groups have so far received their flu jab, putting them at increased danger of the illness and potential complications.
The threat comes as the region experiences unusually high levels of the unrelated norovirus winter vomiting bug – which has led to the closure of four wards in NHS Lothian hospitals this week, with 93 patients and 29 staff members struck down by the illness.
The level of norovirus in the Lothian region is the highest in Scotland, with wards at the Royal Infirmary, Liberton Hospital, the Western General Hospital and the Sick Kids hit. The increased pressure caused by the ward closures is one of the reasons behind NHS Lothian’s decision to reopen wards in the Royal Victoria Hospital, which was shut in August.
Dr Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy for NHS Lothian, said: “Winter brings with it an increase in infections within the community and we are asking the public to help us keep these out of our hospitals.
“We have strict infection control procedures to contain any outbreaks within our hospitals but visitors can make a big difference by washing their hands and not to coming into hospital if they are feeling unwell. If you feel as though you have flu or a tummy bug coming on, please phone the hospital instead – don’t visit.”
Dr McCallumn also urged those eligible to receive a flu jab to get vaccinated – a call echoed by Dr Duncan McCormick, NHS Lothian’s flu immunisation co-ordinator.
He said: “Flu can strike suddenly and if you are in one of the at-risk groups, then the impact of the virus can be even more serious, with symptoms hitting you harder and lasting longer. You could end up in hospital, or contract pneumonia or bronchitis.”
Under-65s in the at-risk group include those with long-term medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and other heart, lung and liver diseases, pregnant women, unpaid carers of any age and NHS workers who deal directly with patients. Everyone over 65 is eligible for a free jab.
The flu jab provides immunisation for around a year and those who got the jab last year have been urged to do so again, especially as last year’s vaccine may not work against this year’s viruses.