Flu season is fast approaching, so it’s important you have all the information you need about protecting yourself and others
Influenza, more commonly known as “the flu” is a nasty virus that is renowned for striking down thousands of people in the UK each year across. It is particularly potent in the autumn and winter months, which is why you are likely to hear a lot about the most vulnerable members of society going for a “flu jab” over the coming weeks.
However, there is often debate at this time of year about the effectiveness and safety of flu vaccinations. In this post, we will cover some of the most commonly asked questions about the flu jab, including who needs it most and who can get it for free this autumn.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
We’ve all probably experienced flu-like symptoms at some point. This is because problems such as a high temperature, hot and cold sweats, coughs and a runny nose can all be found in similar diseases such as the common cold.
It is important to note, however, that the flu does differ from a cold, and can be much more dangerous to your health. The symptoms usually include a high temperature, tiredness, weakness, achiness, general pains and a dry, chesty cough.
You might also suffer from headaches or even migraines.
Who is most at risk of the flu?
Certain people can find themselves more at risk of catching the flu than others, and these individuals are more likely to suffer longer and more extreme symptoms too.
Those who should be particularly aware of the flu include people aged 65 or over, pregnant women, individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma, people with a weakened immune system such as those with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy, and people with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, heart disease or kidney disease.
Who can get the flu jab for free?
The NHS offers free flu vaccinations to a number of different groups. These include any adult over the age of 65 or an individual who will be turning 65 on or before March 31st 2018. Pregnant women can also receive the vaccine for free, as can children aged between six months and two years old who are considered to be at risk of the flu.
The flu vaccine is also offered to people with certain pre-existing health conditions such as:
- Asthma or another chronic respiratory disease
- Chronic heart disease
- Chronic liver disease (e.g. Hepatitis) or kidney disease
- Chronic neurological conditions, including
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Motor Neurone Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
Those with a BMI of 40 or above and can be considered seriously overweight may also be offered the flu jab.
When is the best time to get the flu jab?
Although many people don’t start thinking about the flu jab until winter, the optimum time to receive the jab is actually autumn. Specifically, you should aim to get your flu vaccination between the beginning of October and early November.
Where can you get your flu jab?
You can receive your NHS flu jab at your local GP surgery, or at any local pharmacy offering the service. If you’re pregnant, you can also receive the jab from your midwifery service if they include it as part of their treatment.
Individuals who are considered at risk of the flu can also receive the vaccine from certain community pharmacies. If you receive your jab at a pharmacy, you don’t have to inform your GP.
Does the flu jab have to be an injection?
Generally, the flu vaccination is given as an injection. However, children aged between two and three, children in reception class and children in school years on, two, three and four can obtain the vaccine as a routine annual nasal spray. This is also offered to children aged between two and seventeen who are at particular risk of flu.
Does the flu jab have any side effects?
The flu vaccination has an excellent safety record, and yet there are concerns among some people that it’s actually safer and healthier not to bother with the jab.
Despite common misconceptions, the flu jab cannot cause flu. A small percentage of recipients may experience some mild side effects, such as redness and swelling around the injection area, headache, fever, nausea and muscle aches. A very small number of people do actually experience an allergic reaction to the jab, as is the case with any vaccination. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, weakness, hives and swelling.
If you’ve ever experienced an allergic reaction to the flu shot, you should refrain from getting the vaccination again.
What else can you do to avoid the flu?
As a virus, flu is spread through the passing on of germs, so simple hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of the condition. Washing your hands thoroughly, avoiding touching things like handrails in public places and covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing are simple but effective ways to reduce the spread of the condition.
However, the flu vaccination is by far the most effective way to stop yourself catching the virus.
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