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HEALTH MATTERS: We're not out of the woods yet with winter flu threat compounding Covid concerns – here's what we can do to be prepared


By Hector MacKenzie

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Dr Tim Allison, director of public health for NHS Highland.
Dr Tim Allison, director of public health for NHS Highland.

While Covid is somewhat less in the headlines than it has been over past months, we are still seeing many people testing positive. Rates of infection have been considerably higher than at earlier points in the pandemic. The good news is that the number of people needing hospital admission or becoming seriously ill is lower than before owing to vaccination, and Covid infections are now most common in younger people.

However, there is sadly still a risk of serious illness and death from Covid even among people who are vaccinated. We are also likely to see other viral infections loom large over the coming months.

Influenza generally arrives in the winter and is a significant threat to health, especially for the vulnerable. During the pandemic there has been less influenza than we would normally expect, but there is a danger that we could get high infection rates this winter and that people who have not been exposed to it over the last couple of years will have less immunity. There is also an infection called RSV which, just like Covid and influenza, is a virus that affects breathing. It is a particular risk for infants and the vulnerable.

What we need to do about this is to focus on what works and what has shown to be effective in preventing infection. The pandemic has prompted new research into what works and this builds on years of past research.

Influenza generally arrives in the winter and is a significant threat to health, especially for the vulnerable. During the pandemic there has been less influenza than we would normally expect, but there is a danger that we could get high infection rates this winter and that people who have not been exposed to it over the last couple of years will have less immunity.

Vaccination above all has been shown to reduce the impact of infection for Covid and we know that influenza vaccination also works. I would again encourage you to take up Covid vaccination if you are eligible and have not done so already and the same goes for the upcoming influenza vaccination programme.

Hand washing and good ventilation also have considerable evidence to support their effectiveness. Recently there has been research on masks and face coverings with more people taking part in the research than the whole population of the Highlands. It shows that face coverings do help prevent Covid and that surgical masks are even more effective. Incidentally, masks with valves are not effective for Covid prevention.

In addition to ensuring that we use what works, we also need to make sure that we make the best use of up-to-date technology. For example, we now have a new electronic system for Covid contact tracing which works on mobile phones. People testing positive for Covid will be sent an electronic link to use the system.

Finally, we need to continue to be sensible and be kind to others. Doing this means isolating when we have symptoms that could be Covid and getting a PCR test. It means keeping to guidelines. It means taking lateral flow tests when we don’t have symptoms. When we take these and other actions we will reduce the level of Covid infections and other infections too.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland's director of public health

Related: Highland doc vaccination appeal to public amid twin winter threats of Covid and flu to health service

NHS Highland plea for patience as ops cancelled amid 'unprecedented' pressure


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