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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 October, 2004, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Winter flu jab campaign kicks off
Paul Scholes, who has asthma and is fronting the flu jab campaign
Footballer Paul Scholes has asthma and will be getting his jab
People with chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes, and all those aged over 65, are being urged to get their free flu jab this year.

The Department of Health's campaign is being fronted by Manchester United player Paul Scholes, who has asthma.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson urged those at risk to visit their GP for the vaccination.

"The flu is not a severe cold - it can be a serious illness, and 3,000-4,000 deaths are linked to flu every year."

People eligible for a free flu jab
Aged 65 or over
Chronic heart condition
Chronic respiratory condition, including asthma
Chronic kidney disease
Lowered immunity due to HIV, steroid drugs or cancer therapy
Those living in long-stay residential homes
The jab contains no live virus so cannot give people the flu.

Last year, over 70% of people aged 65 or older had their flu jab.

This year, the Department of Health will be measuring the uptake of the vaccine by anyone who is at risk, not only those aged 65 and over.

A pneumococcal jab is also being offered to everyone aged 75 to 80 and anyone over 80 who has not had the vaccine already.

This is to protect against serious pneumococcal infection such as pneumonia, meningitis and blood poisoning.

'Most effective'

Sir Liam Donaldson explained: "If you suffer from a chronic illness like asthma or diabetes, or are 65 years or older, you are particularly at risk from flu.

I can't afford to be missing games and a bad bout of flu could put me out of action for at least a couple of weeks
Man Utd player and asthma sufferer Paul Scholes
"This means that if you do catch flu, it is more likely to lead on to a more serious illness.

"The flu jab is the most effective protection from the flu. That's why our message for this year's campaign is 'If you knew about flu, you'd get the jab'."

Scholes, a midfielder at Manchester United, said: "Staying fit and healthy is vital for me and for my career.

"I can't afford to be missing games and a bad bout of flu could put me out of action for at least a couple of weeks."

Donna Convey, chief executive of Asthma UK, echoed this advice.

"Approximately 4.3 million people in England have asthma and for many of them, especially those with severe or difficult asthma, having flu could be a major concern," she said.

Simon O'Neill from Diabetes UK said: "People with diabetes are a high risk group when it comes to flu and by not getting the jab they are leaving themselves open to the threat of health problems."

Keep warm campaign

Another initiative being launched, the Keep Warm Keep Well campaign, aims to reduce the number of people falling ill and dying as a result of cold winter weather.

A Winter Warmth Advice Line has been set up to offer practical help on keeping warm and staying healthy. It is: 0800 085 7000.

In previous winters, between December and March, between 24,000 and 49,000 more people have died than at other times of the year.

Half of the deaths caused by the cold were from strokes and heart attacks.

The cold temperatures thicken the blood, making people more susceptible to these conditions.

A third of the deaths were from respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

The viruses which can lead to these conditions thrive in the colder winter months.

Pensioners face flu jab delays
03 Oct 04  |  Scotland
NI flu vaccines secured
30 Sep 04  |  Northern Ireland
At-risk children 'need flu jabs'
02 Dec 03  |  Health
Q&A: Flu
27 Nov 03  |  Health

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