Why it Is Important for Social Care Staff to Get the Flu Vaccination

The autumn is finally here, and, with the cooler weather, comes the inevitable return of the flu season. Every year, people are warned about the dangers of various flu strains.

While washing your hands often is a great preventative technique, it can only do so much. Social care staff, in particular, need to be extra cautious and do much more than just practise good hygiene. In fact, the best way to avoid getting the flu and spreading it to others is to get the flu vaccination as early as possible.

What is the Flu?

Influenza, or the flu, as it is commonly called, is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. Typically, people who are sick with the flu experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fever and chills
  • Body aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headaches

When children get the flu, they often have digestive issues as well, such as vomiting or diarrhoea. These are not symptoms that are often seen in adults.

The flu can be fatal, and the number of cases resulting in death are on the rise. In the UK, almost three times as many people died from the flu or related complications in the 2017-2018 flu season, compared with the previous season.

Those who are elderly, very young, or have compromised immune systems are most at risk, although there have been cases of otherwise healthy individuals contracting deadly strains of the virus.

In cases where the flu is not fatal, it can still cause serious complications. In February 2018, it was reported that more people were hospitalised with the flu at that time than experts have ever recorded.

What Complications Can Arise?

If you get the flu, you can expect to recover within two weeks, without medical intervention. However, there are those who may go on to develop serious complications as a result of the flu. The most common complication is pneumonia, which may require hospitalisation, in order to treat it, and can lead to sepsis in extreme cases. Other complications include sinus and ear infections, heart inflammation, brain inflammation and even multi-organ failure.

These complications can happen to anyone, even otherwise healthy individuals. There are a few groups that are at a particular high risk of developing serious or even fatal complications. They include:

  • People aged 65 and older
  • Children younger than five
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with chronic conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes
  • Individuals with autoimmune diseases

How Does the Flu Vaccination Work?

In February each year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) assesses the strains of flu virus that are most likely to be found during the following winter in the northern hemisphere. WHO recommends which flu strains the vaccines should contain for the forthcoming winter, based on this assessment.

The vaccination stimulates your body’s immune system, forcing it to create flu antibodies. If you subsequently get infected with the flu, these antibodies are immediately produced, in order to fight it.

You need to get the flu vaccination every year for two reasons. The first is that the antibodies you create are going to diminish over time and eventually disappear. In addition, the strain of flu that is most common may change from year to year. A vaccination against one strain is not effective against another.

Why Should Social Care Staff Get the Flu Vaccination?

Anyone who is healthy enough to get the flu vaccination should do so, as soon as the vaccination becomes available. Doing so prevents the spread of the flu to those who may not be able to get the vaccination. For example, the elderly and young babies are often unable to get vaccinated, due to immunity issues. In other cases, health challenges may prevent a person from safely getting vaccinated.

The flu vaccination is like most other vaccination and works based on the concept of herd immunity. If enough people in any given community are immunised, those who are unable to do so are still protected against the illness. This system only works if enough people receive the vaccinations.

Symptoms do not always immediately appear upon infection. In fact, most people are infectious for between one to four days, before their first symptoms appear, although the average time is two days.

As a result, it is possible to infect numerous people, without even being aware that you are doing so. Social care staff need to be careful about spreading illness, as they often work with people who are already at risk of developing serious complications, such as the elderly and those with compromised immunity. Getting the flu vaccination protects those around you who are most vulnerable.

It is also worth noting that it has been reported that up to one third of those who die from the flu were otherwise healthy individuals, prior to infection. Not only does the flu vaccination work to keep you healthy and protect others, it can prevent serious complications from occurring.

Is the Flu Vaccination Legally Required?

Social care staff members have one of the lowest flu vaccination percentages, at just 25%, compared with over 68% across NHS frontline healthcare workers.

While the NHS has informed staff that they have a professional duty to get the flu vaccination every year, it is not yet required by law. However, there is a push for legislation to make vaccinations, including the flu vaccination, mandatory for anyone who works with vulnerable patients.

Interestingly enough, the biggest reason for non-compliance by social care staff was not lack of time — it was overconfidence. Many social care staff feel that they are healthier than others and do not need to worry about getting the flu. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude can quickly lead to flu outbreaks in care homes and among other vulnerable groups.

What are the Side Effects of the Flu Vaccination?

There are practically no side effects associated with getting the flu vaccination, which is another reason why you should do so as soon as possible. You may experience some soreness around the injection site and perhaps aching muscles but nothing that a painkiller and some rest cannot take care of.

If you are employed in the social care field, you should ensure that you get your flu vaccination as soon as it is available. Not only does it protect you and your family from infection, it ensures that everyone you come into contact with also stays safe.

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