published on 10 December 2015
Who should have the flu vaccination and why? Below is helpful information about protecting yourself and your children against flu this winter, and why it’s very important that people who are at increased risk from flu have their free flu vaccination every year.
What is flu? Isn’t it just a heavy cold? How will I know I’ve got it?
Flu is a highly infectious disease with symptoms that come on very quickly. Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold. The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.
What causes flu?
Flu is caused by influenza viruses that infect the windpipe and lungs. And because it’s caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t treat it. If, however, there are complications from getting flu, antibiotics may be needed.
How do you catch flu? Can I avoid it?
When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spread the flu virus in tiny droplets of saliva over a wide area. These droplets can then be breathed in by other people or they can be picked up by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed. You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and you can wash your hands frequently or use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus. But the best way to avoid catching and spreading flu is by having the vaccination before the flu season starts.
Am I at increased risk from the effects of flu?
Flu can affect anyone but if you have a long-term health condition
the effects of flu can make it worse even if the condition is well
managed and you normally feel well. You should have the free flu
vaccine if you are pregnant or have one of the following long-term conditions:
• a heart problem
• a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis,
emphysema or severe asthma
• a kidney disease
• lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as
steroid medication or cancer treatment)
• liver disease
• had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
• a neurological condition, eg multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or learning disability
• a problem with your spleen, eg sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed.
• are seriously overweight
If you have further questions the answers are likely to be in the NHS flu vaccination Winter 2015/16 leaflet.
The vaccine provides the best protection available against an unpredictable virus that can cause severe illness. It is best to have the flu vaccination in the autumn before any outbreaks of flu.
Remember that you need it every year, so don’t assume you are protected because you had one last year.