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Warming to keeping flu at bay.

There is a direct link between cold weather and serious illness. Each year, as the temperature drops, the mortality rate rises.

As the weather gets colder, we're all more likely to catch colds or flu. If your body temperature drops during this time, then the risk of heart attack, stroke or breathing difficulties increases.

This is especially true for older people, for people of any age with a serious disease or long-term condition, or for those made vulnerable by physical disability or treatment.

The best way to combat the effects of winter is to keep warm and healthy.

If you are 65 or older, or if you are of any age (including children over six months of age) and have a serious respiratory condition such as asthma, serious heart, kidney or liver disease, diabetes that requires medication, lowered immunity or any other serious medical condition, you are at risk of flu. This means if you catch flu, there is a greater chance that the virus will lead to a more serious, even critical condition.

The good news is, if you are at risk of the serious consequences, you're entitled to a free flu jab. The flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu and can help you stay active and well through the winter. The flu jab cannot give you flu, but it can help keep you healthy. The flu jab lasts for up to 12 months and as the flu virus constantly changes, you need a new jab each year. The best time to get vaccinated is in the autumn, ready for winter.

If you are 65 or over or in an at risk group, contact your local GP to book yourself in for a free flu jab. If you think you need a flu vaccination, check with your doctor or the practice nurse - or if a nurse visits you regularly, you can ask them. Most doctors organise special vaccination sessions in the autumn. Alternatively, ask your local pharmacist.

If you're aged 65 or over, your GP might recommend you have a pneumo jab which protects against serious forms of pneumococcal infection. This is also available to younger people with certain serious medical conditions.

Keeping warm, eating a mixed diet and staying active are also good for your health, whatever the time of year. Moving around generates extra body heat, so any kind of exercise or activity will help you keep warm. Even moderate exercise, such as walking, has real health benefits if you do it regularly all year round.

You should also keep a temperature of 21 degrees C (70F) in all the rooms you use during the day. If this is not possible, keep your living room warm during the day and heat your bedroom and bed before going to sleep. Contact your local council for further help and advice. You could qualify for a grant to make your home warmer, or financial help to meet the cost of heating bills.

Contact Newcastle Warm Zone on (0191) 277-7373 or The Warm Front Scheme, which gives grants worth up to pounds 2,700 to make homes warmer and more energy-efficient. Call (0800) 072-0151 for more information.

For advice on any aspect of Winter Fuel Payments (including eligibility), call the helpline on (08459) 151515 (8.30am to 4.30am, Monday-Friday). If you are hard of hearing, please use textphone (0845) 601-5613. Have your National Insurance number ready when you call.

The Home Heat Helpline (0800) 336699 also offers advice on cheaper payment schemes, grants for insulating your home, and how to register for extra services and government benefits.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 12, 2006
Words:600
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