Around 1 million people with asthma in the UK could be at risk of having a fatal asthma attack because they say they aren’t planning to get the flu vaccine this winter - even though colds and flu are the top trigger for asthma attacks - according to new estimates by Asthma UK1.
A survey commissioned by Asthma UK, and conducted by YouGov, of more than 1,000 adults living with asthma in the UK revealed that almost a quarter (23%) weren’t going to have the flu vaccine. If this proportion is applied to the number of people with asthma in the UK, almost 1 million people in the UK with asthma could be at risk.
A third of people with asthma (31%) said they weren’t going to have the flu vaccine because they were worried about the side effects and a similar proportion (27%) were sceptical about whether it would work.
Asthma UK, which is supporting the Help Us Help You campaign, says research shows that cold and flu is the top cause of asthma attacks for 8 in 10 (81%) people with asthma.2 It is calling for people to get the flu vaccine as early as possible to reduce their risk of catching the virus and prevent a life-threatening asthma attack.
The flu virus can increase the inflammation in the airways so they can become narrow, leaving people coughing, wheezing and gasping for breath. This increased inflammation also means people are more likely to react to other triggers, such as pollen or pollution, increasing the chance of an asthma attack. Every asthma attack is potentially life-threatening with around three people dying from one in the UK every day.
Asthma UK wants people with asthma who are not eligible for the vaccine to discuss it with their GP so they can be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The charity also wants to make people aware that they could get the flu vaccine from their local pharmacist, as well as their GP surgery.
Analysis of government data reveals3 that asthma deaths and flu deaths peak around the same time. Latest figures show a 22-fold increase in flu deaths from 2005.
Victoria Taylor, 29, from Southampton, who has asthma and didn’t have the flu jab, got flu that triggered such a bad asthma attack that she was hospitalised. She said:
“When I got flu I found myself struggling to breathe and had an asthma attack. It was terrifying and felt like my lungs were filled with cement. No matter how many times I used my blue inhaler I couldn’t get my breathing under control. I had to call an ambulance and spent a week in hospital recovering.
“I had no idea that flu could be so dangerous for people with asthma and it nearly killed me. Since then, I always get the flu jab and I’m urging everyone else with asthma to get it as it could save your life.”
Dr. Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practicing GP said:
“People with asthma who are shunning the flu jab could be playing Russian Roulette with their life. 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. We are urging people to get the facts about flu so they can make an informed decision by visiting asthma.org.uk/flu.”
The flu vaccine is available free of charge to anyone with asthma who meets any of the following criteria:
- they have been using preventer medicine
- they have needed a course of oral or systemic steroids
- they have had a previous hospital admission because of their asthma.
It can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective, so Asthma UK is urging people to get it as soon as possible so they’re protected during the ‘peak flu’ season in December and January.
People with asthma should also make sure they keep taking their regular preventer medicines for their best chance of staying well with their asthma.
Asthma UK has issued top tips for people with asthma to protect themselves from flu this winter:
- Get a flu vaccine as soon as possible if you’re eligible
- Take your preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed
- Carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at all times
Asthma UK wants anyone who needs more information about the flu vaccine to visit www.asthma.org.uk/flu.
For further information, please contact:
Thomas Dearnley-Davison, Senior Social Media & Media Officer, Asthma UK
07951 721 393
Notes to Editors:
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About Asthma UK
Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. For more information about asthma please visit www.asthma.org.uk
1 Estimate based on a YouGov survey of 1,010 adults with an asthma diagnosis in the UK. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1010 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th - 9th September 2018. The survey was carried out online.
To estimate that almost 1 million people were not intending to get the flu vaccine, we applied that proportion of people who said they weren’t (23%) to the population of adults in the UK with asthma (4.3 million).
2 To estimate that 4 million Brits with asthma have colds and flu as an asthma trigger, we applied the proportion of people who said it was a trigger (81%) to the population of people in the UK with asthma (5.4million). This was from Falling Through the Gaps: Why more people need basic asthma care, whichincluded a survey of 7,611 people with asthma across the UK.
3 We sourced this from published ONS data for England and Wales, and a data request from NRS Scotland. There were 22 flu deaths for England, Scotland and Wales in Winter (December, January, February and March) 2005/2006. There were 489 flu deaths in Winter 2016/2017.