Flu warning: Children are 'super spreaders' of the winter illness, warns health officials

Health officials are pushing for eligible children to get their flu jabs.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said this "not only protects them but also those around them".

The campaign comes amid concerns that this flu season could overwhelm the nation's hospitals.Last month the Society for Acute Medicine warned that routine operations could "cease for several months" if hospitals have to deal with a major flu outbreak.

In September, NHS England boss Simon Stevens warned hospitals to be prepared for a "pressurised" flu season following a heavy outbreak in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mr Stevens said the health service was reviewing the situation in Australia and New Zealand, where hospitals were forced to close their doors to new patients and people faced long waiting times.

Now Public Health England (PHE) is urging parents whose children have not yet been vaccinated against flu to do so before the winter flu season begins.

School children in reception class as well as those in years 2,3 and 4 are eligible for a free nasal spray vaccination in school.

Pre-schoolers aged two and over can get their nasal spray from their GP surgery.

PHE said young children were particularly vulnerable to flu and were most likely to spread flu to others.Giving them the vaccine protected them as well as stopping them from passing the illness to more vulnerable groups.

Flu and complications associated with it cause 8,000 deaths on average a year in England, PHE added.

Dame Sally said: "Any child can catch flu, thousands do every year and some end up in hospital as a result.

"Parents should not be complacent - the single most effective way to protect your children against flu this winter is to get them vaccinated with the simple nasal spray.

"Children can be super spreaders so getting them vaccinated not only protects them but also those around them."

Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, added: "Vaccinating those who are most likely to get flu both protects them and offers indirect protection to the rest of the population by reducing the amount of virus circulating."

Flu can be much more dangerous for children than many parents realise and when children get flu they tend to spread it around the whole family.

"The child vaccination programme is really beneficial in reducing the spread of flu to other more vulnerable family members for whom flu can be very serious."

Other people eligible for free flu jabs on the NHS include: the elderly, pregnant women and patients with certain medical conditions.

Meanwhile, the Society for Acute Medicine has issued a fresh warning that NHS trusts have the potential to be "pushed into utter chaos" this winter.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the society, which represents hospital doctors who look after patients admitted as an emergency who do not need surgery, said: "The NHS has not really recovered from last winter including a disillusioned workforce being asked to do more with less every day.

"Despite all the talk, there is little progress with any winter plans, with trusts still focused, it feels, on short-term financial savings with no long or even medium-term planning - it is all quick fixes with no real concept of the future."

He added: "We also know trusts 'treating' the emergency access emergency department target in isolation end up hiding problems and stresses deeper in hospitals and there is not enough community care of sufficient quality to meet any demand.

"These issues don't come as any surprise, so how long are we to go on without the Secretary of State being held to account for not addressing the problems we know have the potential to push the NHS into utter chaos this winter?"



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