The information below is given by Public Health England. For advice and information about the flu vaccination, speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist
What is flu? Isn't it just a heavy cold?
Flu occurs every year, usually in the winter, which is why it’s sometimes called seasonal flu. It’s 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. However, if there are complications from getting flu, antibiotics may be needed.
How do you catch flu?
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.
Who has an increased risk of 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 a long term condition such as:
A heart problem
A chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
A kidney disease
A lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
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 (BMI of 40 and above)
This list of conditions isn’t definitive. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.
Who should consider having a flu vaccination?
All those who have any condition listed
above, or who are:
Aged 65 years or over
Living in a residential or nursing home
The main carer of an older or disabled person
A household contact of an immunocompromised person
A frontline health or social care worker
Children of a certain age
Flu and Pregnancy
All pregnant women should have the flu vaccine to protect themselves and their babies. The flu vaccine can be given safely at any stage of pregnancy, from conception onwards.
Pregnant women benefit from the flu vaccine because it will:
Reduce their risk of serious complications such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy
Reduce the risk of miscarriage or having a baby born too soon or with a low birth weight •
Help protect their baby who will continue to have some immunity to flu during the first few months of its life
Reduce the chance of the mother passing infection to her new baby
I am pregnant and I think I may have flu. What should I do?
If you have flu symptoms you should talk to your doctor urgently, because if you do have flu there is a prescribed medicine that might help (or reduce the risk of complications), but it needs to be taken as soon as possible after the symptoms appear
Flu and Children
If you have a child over six months of age who has one of the conditions listed on page 4, they should have a flu vaccination. All these children are more likely to become severely ill if they catch flu, and it could make their existing condition worse. Talk to your GP about your child having the flu vaccination before the flu season starts.
The flu vaccine does not work well in babies under six months of age so it is not recommended. This is why it is so important that pregnant women have the vaccination – they will pass on some immunity to their baby that will protect them during the early months of their life.
Some other groups of children are also being offered the flu vaccination. This is to help protect them against the disease and help reduce its spread both to other children, including their brothers or sisters, and, of course, their parents and grandparents.
This will help you to avoid the need to take time off work because of flu or to look after your children with flu.
The children being offered the vaccine this year, are:
All two and three years of age
All children in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
Children aged two and three years will be given the vaccination at their general practice usually by the practice nurse. Nearly all eligible children in reception year and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 throughout England will be offered the flu vaccine in school.
For most children, the vaccine will be given as a spray in each nostril. This is a very quick and painless procedure. For more information on children and flu vaccination see the NHS Choices information at nhs.uk/child-flu
There are three types of flu vaccine:
• A live attenuated quadrivalent vaccine, given as a nasal spray. This is for children and young people aged 2 to 17 years in an eligible group
• A quadrivalent injected vaccine. This is for adults aged 18 and over but below the age of 65 who are at increased risk from flu because of a long term health condition and for children 6 months and above in an eligible group who cannot receive the live attenuated vaccine
• An adjuvanted injected vaccine. This is for people aged 65 and over
Flu is unpredictable. The vaccine provides the best protection available against a virus that can cause severe illness. The most likely viruses that will cause flu are identified in advance of the flu season and vaccines are then made to match them as closely as possible. The vaccines are given in the autumn ideally before flu starts circulating. During the last ten years the vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains.