Flu: a million Brits with asthma may be at risk

A survey commissioned by health charity Asthma UK suggests around a million people in this country who are living with asthma could be at risk of having an asthma attack because they’re not planning to get a flu jab this winter.

Carried out by YouGov, the survey of more than a thousand people with asthma in the UK found 23 per cent were planning to not have a flu jab, despite the fact that flu is a top trigger for asthma attacks. Applying this figure to everyone in the UK who has asthma suggests around a million people could be left unprotected from the flu virus this winter.

If you have asthma you’re entitled to a free flu vaccine on the NHS. So why are so many people with the condition not getting their jab this year?

According to the survey, 31 per cent said they wouldn’t have the jab because they’re worried about side effects. And 27 per cent said they were skipping the jab because they’re sceptical about whether or not it would work.

However, asthma attacks can be life threatening, says the charity, which points out that colds and flu are top causes of asthma attacks for 81 per cent of people with asthma. This is because the flu virus can increase inflammation in the airways, making the airways more narrow. And when your airways are more narrow, it can lead to coughing, wheezing and breathlessness.

The increased inflammation also means people with asthma are more likely to react to other triggers – pollution, for instance – which can also increase the chance of an asthma attack.

Myths and truths

“People with asthma who are shunning the flu jab could be playing Russian roulette with their life,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP.

“The majority of people with asthma say colds and flu are their top trigger so it makes sense for them to try and protect themselves by getting the flu jab.

“Unfortunately there are lots of myths about the flu jab not working, causing side effects or causing flu, and our research shows this is preventing people from getting it. In fact the vaccine can’t give you flu, the side effects are minimal and it could save people’s lives by preventing a life-threatening asthma attack.”

According to the charity, the flu vaccine is available free if you have asthma and any of the following conditions apply to you:

  • You’ve been using preventer medicine
  • You’ve needed a course of oral or systemic steroids
  • You’ve had a previous hospital admission because of having asthma

It can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective, so the charity is urging people with asthma to get the jab as soon as possible in order to be protected during peak flu season (December and January). It’s also advising people with asthma to make sure they keep taking their regular preventer medicines for the best chance of staying well with their asthma, and to carry their reliever inhaler (usually blue) with them at all times.

For more information about asthma and flu, visit the charity’s website www.asthma.org.uk/flu.

Also remember your local Careway pharmacist can give you lots more information about the flu vaccine as well as details of how to stay well during the winter if you’re living with a long-term condition such as asthma.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.