Cases of flu and norovirus are on the rise

Find out more about flu and norovirus and what you can do to lower your risk and manage these conditions

Public Health England states cases of flu and norovirus are on the rise

These conditions can be worse if you are on biologic therapy and your immune system is low. We have highlighted what you can do to lower your risk of catching these illnesses and how to manage them if you do develop them.

Norovirus

Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, is highly infectious and causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

Symptoms include sudden onset of nausea, projectile vomiting and diarrhoea. You can also experience a high temperature, abdominal pain and aching limbs. Symptoms typically last about 24 to 48 hours.

Norovirus is easily transmitted through contact with infected individuals and any surfaces or objects which have been contaminated with virus shed by these individuals.

  1. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water. Alcohol hand gels don’t kill norovirus.
  2. Avoid contact with anyone with norovirus if possible.
  3. Stay at home if you are experiencing norovirus symptoms. Do not return to work or send children to school until 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.
  4. When an infected person vomits, the droplets contaminate the surrounding surfaces. A bleach-based household cleaner or a combination of bleach and hot water should be used to disinfect potentially contaminated household surfaces and commonly used objects such as toilets, taps, telephones, door handles and kitchen surfaces.
  5. If you are ill, avoid cooking and helping prepare meals for others until 48 hours after symptoms have stopped, as norovirus can be spread through food contaminated by the virus when food is handled by symptomatic people/infected individuals contaminated food.
  6. Wash any contaminated clothing or bedding using detergent and at 60°C, and if possible wear disposable gloves to handle contaminated items.
  7. Do not visit your GP surgery or local hospital while symptomatic and until 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped. If you are concerned talk to your GP by phone.
  8. If you have a low immune system you can develop severe symptoms which last longer and are therefore most at risk of becoming dehydrated. It is important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid this.

Flu

Flu is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract. Symptoms will usually include a fever, chills, headache, aching muscles, joint pain and fatigue. It is different to the common cold. It’s a highly infectious virus which spreads rapidly. Even people with mild or no symptoms can infect others.

Flu kills an average of 8,000 people every year, and it can be particularly serious in older adults, very young children, and people with underlying health conditions.

The flu vaccine remains the best defence we have against flu and protects those people who are most vulnerable.

Certain groups of people are at higher risk from flu. This includes adults aged 65 and over and people with weakened immune systems. This would include people on biologic therapies like anti TNF or anti IL 17A, on regular steroids or taking DMARDs such as methotrexate.

There isn’t a definitive list of conditions which are eligible for a free flu vaccine. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. GPs are advised to assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself. The vaccine should always be offered in such cases.

If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system, you may also be advised to have a flu vaccine. Speak to your GP or pharmacist about this.

Where to get the flu vaccine

You can have your NHS flu vaccine at your GP surgery or a local pharmacy offering the service. If you have your flu vaccine at a pharmacy, you don’t have to inform your GP – it is up to the pharmacist to do that.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Studies have shown that the flu vaccine will help prevent you getting the flu. It won’t stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary, so it’s not a 100% guarantee that you’ll be flu-free, but if you do get flu after vaccination it’s likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.

Over time, protection from the injected flu vaccine gradually decreases and flu strains often change. So new flu vaccines are produced each year, which is why people advised to have the flu vaccine need it every year too.

A wider range of flu vaccines are now available which should offer better protection. This includes the ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine which was offered to those aged 65 years and over for the first-time last year and provided a higher level of protection compared to the standard non-adjuvanted vaccines in this age group.

In addition, a new cell-based vaccine which protects against four strains of flu (quadrivalent) will also be available for those aged 65 and over, and those under 65 with underlying medical conditions.

Flu vaccine side effects

Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. You may have a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the vaccine, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.