"Skipping the flu vaccine nearly cost me my life, don't risk it this winter" - Asthma and flu could be a 'lethal combination," charity warns

A father from East Sussex who was put into a coma this year after a life-threatening asthma attack triggered by the flu is now calling on everyone with asthma to get the flu vaccine this winter.
New analysis from Asthma UK reveals flu and winter colds are top triggers for an estimated 4 million people.

A father who nearly died a week before his son’s first birthday after the flu triggered a life-threatening asthma attack is urging people to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible.This warning comes as new analysis from Asthma UK reveals flu could be deadly for an estimated 4 million people[1] if they get the flu this winter.

With flu season ramping up, Asthma UK is now sounding a siren call for people with asthma to get the flu vaccination to help protect themselves from viruses and cut their risk of an asthma attack and a stay in hospital.

Flu and colds are top triggers for people with asthma, with the latest figures showing 83% of children and 74% of adults saying that it triggers their asthma.[2]

Flu circulates every winter and generally peaks in December and January.[3] Having the flu vaccine as soon as possible helps to reduce the risk of people with asthma catching flu viruses, which can put them at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack.

Adam Blackman, 47 from East Sussex spent over month in hospital after the flu triggered a life-threatening asthma attack in February this year. Shortly after being hospitalised he was put into a coma for a week after suffering complications getting the flu and developed pneumonia and a collapsed lung.

He said: “I learnt the hard way that the flu can be life-threatening after it triggered a near fatal asthma attack. My wife had just got home from work and I could barely breathe. It felt like someone had their hands around my throat. It was terrifying. My wife dialled 999 and I was rushed by ambulance to hospital and the rest is a bit of blur.

“I was hooked up to a life support machine and put in isolation so that the flu wouldn’t spread.

“It was nearly catastrophic for me, but my friends and family were also at risk. My brother in law who has asthma got ill shortly afterwards and ended up in hospital too. Given how contagious flu can be I would urge everyone to get the flu vaccine, so they don’t have to go through the hell I’ve been through. I’m not risking it again and have already got the flu vaccine. I am urging everyone with asthma to get it as soon as possible, it could save your life.”

Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practicing GP said: “Asthma and flu can be a potentially lethal combination, and the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent someone falling ill. Flu can make people’s asthma symptoms worse and trigger a life-threatening asthma attack. People with asthma are also at higher risk of developing other serious flu related complications as the flu can make their asthma symptoms worse.

“Now we’re in flu season, we are urging people to protect their airways this winter and get the flu vaccine. To find out more visit asthma.org.uk/flu.”

Only half of people with chronic respiratory disease, including asthma, received their free flu vaccine last winter.[4] Previous research by Asthma UK found people are still shunning the flu vaccine, revealing that a third of people with asthma (31%)[5] said they weren’t going to have the flu vaccine because they were worried about the side effects. A similar proportion (27%)[6] were sceptical about whether it would work.

The flu vaccine is the most effective way that people can protect themselves against the flu. Despite reports of delays in vaccine stocks being delivered, availability has improved. If people have difficulty accessing the flu vaccine, Asthma UK is advising people with asthma to contact their GP surgery.

People with asthma are at high risk of developing serious flu complications. The flu virus can increase the inflammation in the airways so they can become narrow, leaving people coughing, wheezing and struggling for breath and putting them at the risk of an asthma attack. This can be fatal, with around three people dying from an asthma attack in the UK every day. Last year, flu deaths were at a six-year high, claiming the lives of over 1,500 people.[7]

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. If people aren’t eligible for a free vaccine, they can access it for a small fee.

The flu vaccine is available free of charge to anyone with asthma who meets any of the following criteria:

  • they have been using a 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 you can
  • 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.

 

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[1] Between June-October 2019, Asthma UK surveyed 12,876 people with asthma through an online survey. Of those surveyed, 75% said that colds and flu were a trigger for their asthma. We applied 75% to the population of people with asthma in the UK (5.4million) to get a figure of 4 million.

[2] Ibid. Of those surveyed, 868 children (83%) and 8,765 adults (74%) said that colds and flu triggered their asthma.  

[5] Estimate based on a YouGov survey of 1,010 adults with an asthma diagnosis in the UK on behalf of Asthma UK. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,010 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th - 9th September 2018.  The survey was carried out online.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Office for National Statistics (2019). Death registrations summary tables – England and Wales. Data accessed via NOMIS at https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/query/construct/summary.asp?mode=construct&version=0&dataset=161