Fact Vs Fiction

Millions May Be At Risk Of Flu This Winter

1 in 3 believe flu is just a ‘severe cold’, despite potentially life-threatening consequences

Half of Britons still succumb to ‘old wives tales’ instead of seeking GP advice

  Ignorance over the difference between the common cold and the potentially much more serious flu virus could be putting millions at risk of serious health complications this winter, according to new research commissioned by the Department of Health as part of its annual flu immunisation drive.

  The study revealed that the seriousness of flu is grossly misunderstood by Britons, with 1 in 3 (34%) confusing the flu with a ‘heavy cold’, despite the fact that thousands in at-risk groups of all ages – not just older people - die as a result of complications following the virus each year.

  The research showed that archaic health myths are still being put into practice by over 23 million Britons, with a staggering 1 in 2 admitting to following “old wives’ tales” rather than the advice of their GP when it comes to prevention and cure of the flu virus. Key findings show:

  • Over a quarter (28%) believe in feeding a cold and starving a fever, while 1 in 20 even believe carrying garlic can ward off flu
  • An alarming 1 in 3 mistakenly believe that taking vitamin C can actually cure the flu virus, despite no medical evidence to support this
  • More than 1 in 10 admit they fear ‘catching their death’ from going out with wet hair
  • More than 1 in 20 falsely believe the flu jab – the most effective means of protecting against the virus – can actually give you flu.

  The research, which was commissioned by the Department of Health to support its annual flu immunisation campaign, aims to raise awareness of the potentially serious complications that flu can cause in ‘at-risk’ groups of all ages. While nearly two thirds (61%) were aware of the risks for older people, 1 in 4 (24%) did not know that it can be potentially fatal for people under 65 suffering from serious conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart complaints. It is estimated that about four million people in England under the age of 65 fall into a high-risk category, making them eligible for a flu jab.

  Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation for the Department of Health, comments, “The research shows that common colds are frequently confused with flu, but for some, the flu virus can be potentially life-threatening. We are urging those at greater risk – including people suffering serious heart problems, asthma and diabetes – to get their flu jab from their GP. Last year, only about 45% of those under 65 in at-risk groups had the jab. The flu jab can literally save lives.”

  Backing the campaign, Dr Hilary Jones commented, “The continued reliance on ‘old wives’ tales’ is worrying – and could be put millions at risk by failing to protect themselves properly during the winter months. Despite what the vast majority think, older people are not the only ones at risk of serious consequences from flu and people with risk factors should ensure they get the jab. I would urge anyone suffering from a heart, chest or respiratory condition or other serious long-term condition to get their jab before winter sets in.”

  Other findings reveal that Britons fail to separate fact from fiction when it comes to how the flu virus is spread and what its symptoms really are:

  • 46% are unaware that failing to cover your mouth when sneezing or washing hands after coughing are among the most common ways of spreading the flu virus
  • 65% have no idea that carrying used tissues or hankies spreads the flu virus
  • 53% would still go out and try to carry on their life as normal when suffering from flu, despite this being likely to spread the virus further
  • 44% of UK men admit to saying they have flu when suffering from a common cold or sniffles, and 1 in 5 say their partners are always unsympathetic as a result.

  The Department of Health campaign also aims to remind those in at-risk groups that the flu vaccine doesn’t contain any live virus, so it can’t cause flu. It is also urging those who got the jab last year to ensure they get a new jab this winter, as the strain of virus can change every year.

  Dr Hilary Jones continues, “The best way to avoid catching flu if you’re at risk is to get immunised. Other practical tips to avoid spreading germs include always carrying tissues, covering your mouth when you cough and disposing of the tissues after one use, and cleaning your hands as soon as you can.”

  Libby Dowling, Care Advisor at Diabetes UK, said, “People with diabetes are a high risk group when it comes to getting flu, so it is crucial that people with the condition are vaccinated this winter.
  Having flu can really upset diabetes control and cause blood glucose levels to fluctuate. This can leave people with diabetes open to many health problems including complications of flu such as pneumonia and bronchitis. People with diabetes qualify for a free flu jab and should visit their GPs to make sure that they have the proper protection against the flu virus."

  June Davison, Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said, “Flu can cause inflammation in our blood vessels and can go on to trigger a heart attack or stroke in people at increased risk. People considered to be at increased risk are those who already have heart or circulatory disease. Heart patients are offered the flu jab for free. We strongly recommend they take up the offer to protect themselves against this potential killer."

  Vikki Knowles, Asthma UK Clinical Lead, says: “Over 5 million people in the UK have asthma and for 90% of them, colds and flu trigger their asthma symptoms, meaning that having the flu is a major concern. We recommend that anyone with asthma discusses the possibility of having a flu jab with their GP really as soon as possible, before the virus begins to circulate.”

  To find out more, talk to your local GP, nurse or pharmacist or visit www.nhs.uk/flu