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What is influenza, and why does it matter in prisons? Read here to find out.
Influenza virus stained and viewed under a microscope.

Influenza, usually referred to as the flu, is a disease which is usually most widespread in the winter.

It can range from a mild flu symptoms such as a cough, headaches and chills, to fatal pneumonia, depending on the person who gets sick. It is a very important disease which puts a huge strain on national health systems worldwide in the winter months. As such, it is very important to ensure high vaccination rates in those most vulnerable to severe flu symptoms in order to protect them.

Influenza is a virus which is constantly changing. This is why we need to get a different vaccine every year, as this vaccine is changed every year to protect against the strains predicted to be circulating in that year’s flu season. Prisons are an environment where the flu can spread very easily. This is because prisons are usually crowded without much ventilation or fresh air. Also, people living in prisons are often more likely to have severe complications from the flu because of their age or underlying health conditions.

The disease


How does it feel?

People who have the flu can have a sudden high temperature, an aching body, feel tired or exhausted, a dry cough, sore throat, headache, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite, diarrhoea or tummy pain, feeling sick and being sick.

What is severe disease like?

People who are very ill can develop pneumonia and may die. Influenza is responsible for 290 000 to 650 000 deaths every year.

How does it spread?

Flu spreads through contact with coughs and sneezes of an infected person. The influenza virus can live on surfaces and hands for 24 hours. Infected people can avoid spreading it by washing their hands and covering their mouth with a tissue when coughing.

Who is at risk of getting it?

Everyone is at risk of getting flu, but some people at more at risk of serious complications, succ as older adults, young children, people with long-term health conditions or a weak immune system.

Why does it matter in prisons?

Because of the close living conditions (such as sharing of cells) and bad ventilation in prisons, infections which spread through the air, such as flu, can spread very quickly in prisons. When staff members become sick in the winter months from flu, staff members have to take time off work, which increases pressure on remaining colleagues to run the prison safely.

What vaccines are there against influenza?

The flu vaccine changes every year. There are several different types of flu vaccine available. Which vaccine is given depends on age and current recommendations. It can be given as an injection or, less commonly, as a spray up the nose.

How effective is the vaccine?

Vaccination effectiveness differs every year depending on which flu strains are circulating, but is generally around 50%. One dose of influenza vaccine is required on a yearly basis.

How safe is the vaccine?

The flu vaccine is a very safe vaccine. Common side effects include soreness where the needle went in, a slightly raised temperature and muscle aches.

Did you know?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) makes recommendations for the strains to be included in the flu vaccine each year based on advice from an international group of experts who constantly analyse flu activity and monitor different winter flu seasons across the world.
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Prison Health: Vaccinations for People Working and Living in Prisons (Vaccine Trained Staff)

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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