Pregnant women and young children are once again being targeted to increase take-up of the flu vaccination.

The common virus, spread by coughs and sneezes, usually clears up within a week but can cause serious health complications among vulnerable groups of people – and in extreme cases be life-threatening.

However, the numbers of pregnant women and pre-school children in Nottingham receiving a vaccination is currently lower than health professionals would like and they are urging increased take-up.

Between September 2016 and January 2017, 37.7% of expectant women in Nottingham who are registered with a GP booked in for a flu jab, against a national average of 44.9% and a combined Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire average of 45.3%.

This represented an increase in Nottingham from the previous year when 34.8% of pregnant woman took up the offer of the vaccine, but it falls well short of the minimum 55% target.

Meanwhile, 35.2% of two-year-olds and 37.5% of three-year-olds received the flu vaccination last year. Although these figures are an improvement on the year before, they are still below the average for the region and below the national target of between 40% and 60%.

The flu vaccination is one of the safest in the world and will protect a pregnant woman and her baby. There is good evidence that pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.

Flu in pregnancy can mean the baby being born prematurely or at a low birth weight. In extreme cases it can lead to stillbirth or death in the first week of life.

The virus is a common infection in young children and can be very unpleasant. They have the same symptoms as adults, including fever, chills, aching muscles, headache, stuffy nose, dry cough and a sore throat lasting up to a week.

However, some infants can develop a very high fever or complications of flu, such as bronchitis, pneumonia or a painful middle-ear infection.

Flu can be horrible for youngsters and they can quickly spread it around the whole family. Healthy children under the age of five are more likely to have to be admitted to hospital with flu than any other age group.

Flu virus is contained within the millions of tiny droplets which come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets typically spread around a metre but will land on nearby surfaces such as food, door handles, furniture, remote controls, telephone handsets and computer keyboards. They can survive for up to 24 hours.

Anyone who breathes in the droplets, or touches a surface they have landed on and then touches their nose or mouth, can catch the virus.

It is possible to pass on flu without having any symptoms. Spread of the infection can be prevented by washing hands regularly with soap and warm water, cleaning surfaces to kill germs, using tissues to cover the mouth and nose after coughing and sneezing, and then disposing of used tissues as quickly as possible.

The flu vaccine is available for free on the NHS to:

  • Anyone over the age of 65
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone who is very overweight (a body mass index above 40)
  • Children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or lung disease)
  • Children and adults with weakened immune systems
  • Carers
  • Those in long-stay residential care homes

An annual flu vaccine nasal spray is also now offered to healthy children aged two and three years old via their GP, and to pupils aged four to eight in schools. This is quick, painless and protects them against the virus without the need for an injection.

The best time to have the vaccine is in the autumn from now until early November.

Councillor Nick McDonald, Portfolio Holder for Adults and Heath at Nottingham City Council, said: “A large number of people still view flu as simply a ‘bad cold’. They are completely unaware of the risks, and potentially serious consequences, of catching it – particularly among vulnerable groups.

“Here in Nottingham, we are aware that we need to increase the number of pregnant women and pre-school children receiving the vaccination.

“For many parents and carers of healthy children, the idea of an annual flu vaccination is still relatively new. Similarly, we need pregnant women to understand the importance of getting the jab, especially if they are in the final stages of their pregnancy.

“Flu can be extremely unpleasant for young children, while pregnancy naturally weakens the immune system – expectant mothers might be less able to fight infection and protect their baby. It is completely safe to have the vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.

“Don’t put off getting your vaccination if you’re eligible – it’s free because you need to have it. Make an appointment to see your GP or pharmacist today.”