Flu have got to be serious!

It’s that time of year when GP surgeries and private health organisations are promoting flu jabs. We often get asked about the benefit of flu jabs and what impact, if any, does the injection have on sickness absence in the workplace.

Flu marketing

Why bother?

Minor illnesses (such as flu) accounted for 27.4 million lost working days in the UK economy in 2013. This is 30% of all sickness absences in the same year, which is by far the most common reason given. A survey carried out by the Co-operative Group in 2010 found that a total of 7.6 million working days are lost each year in the UK specifically because of flu, costing the British economy £1.35bn.

It is usual for an individual with flu to take up to 5 days absence from work and it is estimated that sickness absence causes by flu costs an employer £522 per employee.

A review of 55 case studies found that there were immediate and financial benefits from wellbeing interventions found in a number of cases across all sectors and business sizes (Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2008).

One example of this was an NHS organisation, where a voluntary flu immunisation programme for staff led to two fewer working days absence among those who were immunised. In monetary terms, over two years the benefit of this programme was 9.2 times the cost: good health was found to be good business for employers.

Vaccination really can work. A workforce can reduce lost work days by up to 45% during an outbreak of flu.

NHS Hospital staff in South Tyneside are preparing for the impending winter by getting their flu jabs.  The Trust has trained ‘flu champions’ to help its occupational health department deliver the campaign at South Tyneside District Hospital and at community health venues in Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Dr Bob Brown, executive director of nursing and patient safety, said: “The flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus which can cause severe illness and deaths among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and those with a health condition – even one that is well-managed.

More about Flu vaccinations

Flu vaccination by injection, commonly known as the “flu jab” is available every year on the NHS to protect adults (and some children) at risk of flu and its complications.

Whilst Influenza or Flu can be unpleasant, if you are otherwise healthy it will usually clear up on its own within a week. However, flu can be more severe in certain people, such as:

  • anyone aged 65 and over
  • pregnant women
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems such as those without a spleen etc

Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so it’s recommended that they have a flu vaccine every year to protect them.

The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS as an annual injection to:

  • adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone aged 65 and over)
  • children aged six months to two years at risk of flu

But does it work?

Last winter it emerged that the seasonal flu vaccine used offered barely any cover against the main strain of flu encountered in the UK. Mutations in the HA molecule on one of the most common circulating strains, H3N2, meant that the seasonal flu vaccine offered little protection. Public Health England said in February that the less effective vaccine was likely to have been behind a steep rise in flu deaths.

Ministers are urging people not to be put off by failures of the flu vaccine last year. They say those who qualify for a free jab, or spray for children, should take up the offer this winter as it still offers the most effective cover against flu.

Dr Hugh van’t Hoff, GP, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire and Lead for Facts4life commented “Vaccination is one of the triumphs of modern medicine. It has a very good safety record and provides a way of alerting the immune system about dangerous illnesses.”

What is the future?

A universal flu vaccine that protects against multiple strains of the virus is a step closer after scientists created experimental jabs that work in animals.

The vaccines prevented deaths or reduced symptoms in mice, ferrets and monkeys infected with different types of flu, raising hopes for a reliable alternative to the seasonal vaccine.

Doctors hope that a universal flu vaccine would do away with the need for people at risk to have flu jabs every year, and even protect the public from dangerous, potentially pandemic, strains that jump from birds or pigs into humans.

Conventional flu vaccines target the “head” of a molecule called haemagglutinin (HA) that sits on the surface of flu viruses. But because the head of the HA mutates so rapidly, seasonal flu vaccines must be continually re-formulated to ensure they are effective.

Health and Wellbeing strategies

Many employers recognize the benefit of proactive wellbeing strategies. Even if they are not arranging for an in-house vaccination program they are reimbursing employees who get this done privately. Moneysavingexpert has an up to date .