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Flu advice for employers
What is flu?
Flu is a respiratory illness caused by several strains of influenza virus. These strains include H1N1 (swine flu) and flu B, as well as other strains. Flu affects thousands of people every winter, but is much more common during some winters than others. For most people, flu will be a short illness with no serious consequences, but unfortunately, for a minority it can lead to severe illness.
Flu vaccination is advised every winter for the groups below. This year’s seasonal flu vaccination is effective against H1N1 (swine flu) and other strains of flu.
Seasonal flu vaccination is recommended for:
- pregnant women in all stages/any trimester of pregnancy (see Protect yourself and your baby: the flu vaccine and pregnancy);
- anyone aged over 65 years, even if they feel fit and healthy at the moment;
- children and adults who have any of the following medical conditions:
- a chronic chest condition such as asthma;
- a chronic heart condition;
- chronic liver disease;
- chronic kidney disease;
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy (people living in the same house as someone with lowered immunity may also need to be vaccinated);
- a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects your nervous system, such as cerebral palsy, or hereditary and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system or muscles;
- any other serious medical condition - check with your doctor if you are unsure;
- children who have previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection;
- children attending schools for children with severe learning difficulties;
- anyone living in a residential or nursing home;
- main carers for elderly or disabled people (you should seek advice from your GP surgery as to whether you should be vaccinated so you can continue to look after the person you care for. You should also ensure that thay are vaccinated, if recommended).
Even if someone in these groups had the flu vaccine last year, they should still have the seasonal flu vaccine this year, even if they feel fit and healthy now, to make sure they are fully protected against all three common types of flu.
What are the symptoms of flu?
The symptoms of flu often start suddenly and include:
- fatigue/unusual tiredness
- runny nose
- sore throat
- shortness of breath or a cough
- loss of appetite
- aching muscles
- vomiting or diarrhoea
How is flu treated?
Most people will recover within a few days. Resting and taking over-the-counter preparations such as paracetamol will help. Anyone with flu-like symptoms should stay at home until they feel better, so they do not infect others.
Those in at risk groups, or those feeling breathless or very unwell or who develop a productive cough (bringing up phlegm) should telephone their GP or GP out-of-hours service for advice. For these people, antiviral medication may be advised.
The PHA advises that it is important patients do not go to an accident and emergency department unless absolutely necessary and urgent.
If an employee develops flu-like symptoms at work, arrangements should be made for them to go home. They should remain at home until they recover.
Good hygiene advice
Employers can help reduce the spread of all viruses by encouraging good personal hygiene.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus from their hands to their face or to others.
- Covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and using a tissue when possible.
- Disposing of used tissues quickly and carefully and washing hands immediately.
- Cleaning hard surfaces (eg door handles) frequently using your usual cleaning product.
Adequate supplies of liquid soap, hot and cold water, and paper towels (or, in the absence of paper towels, hot air dryers) should be available. Hand sanitisers may be useful in some circumstances (eg when staff travel away from base) but good hand washing facilities, with soap and water, are preferable where they can be provided.