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Seasonal flu occurs every year, usually in the winter. It’s a highly infectious disease caused by a number of flu viruses.
What is flu?
Flu is a highly infectious disease. The symptoms, that come on very quickly, include fever, chills, headaches, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. For most healthy people, a bad bout of flu is worse than a heavy cold usually requiring someone to spend a few days in bed. However, serious infections, especially in those with underlying health conditions, although less common, can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability and even death.
What causes flu?
Flu is caused by viruses that are spread from person to person. They infect the respiratory system, where they can lead to pneumonia and other complications. The viruses are constantly changing and this is one of the main reasons why people should have a flu jab annually.
How is flu spread?
Flu is spread by coughs and sneezes that propel infected droplets of saliva or nasal secretions into the air which are then breathed in by others. The disease is also spread by people touching surfaces that the droplets have landed on and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. This is why frequent hand washing or using an antiseptic hand rub is so important during the winter flu season.
How can I avoid catching flu?
It’s quite hard to avoid because people may be able to pass the virus on to others a day or so before symptoms start to show (as well as up to seven days after), so they won’t know if they are spreading the virus or not. So it’s very hard to avoid contact with people infected with the flu virus. And, of course, members of your family can always bring it into the home.
You can wash your hands regularly but this won’t stop you catching the disease by breathing in the infected droplets in the air. So the best way to help avoid getting flu is by having the flu jab.
Why is flu more serious for me if I am an older person?
The risk of serious illness from flu and consequent hospitalisation and death is higher among those aged 65 years and older as they are more likely to have an underlying health problem and the immune system does not work as well. The best way for people at risk from flu to protect themselves is to have the flu jab.
Why do underlying health conditions or pregnancy make it more serious for someone who gets flu?
You are at particular risk of severe illness if you get flu and have an underlying health condition, or are pregnant. This means that you are more likely to be admitted to hospital or on rare occasions be admitted to intensive care and even potentially die.
Will I be completely protected by the flu jab?
By having the flu jab you will be significantly reducing your risk of getting flu but no vaccine offers 100% protection.
Will I get any side effects?
There are some fairly common but mild side effects. Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected. Any other reactions are very rare.
I had the flu jab last year. Do I need another one this year?
Yes, the flu jab for this winter provides protection against some different strains of flu from last year’s. For this reason, we strongly recommend that even if you had the flu jab last year, you should have the flu jab again this year.
Where can I get more information?
Speak to your pharmacist, GP or visit the flu pages on the NHS Choices website at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pages/flu-influenza-vaccine.aspx
Seasonal flu jab
The flu jab helps to protect you against seasonal flu.
When a person is given the flu jab, the immune system (the body’s natural defence system) will produce its own protection (antibodies) against the disease.
None of the ingredients in the vaccine can cause flu. Flu is a disease that can spread rapidly and is caused by different types of strains that can change every year. This is why you are offered a flu jab every year.
The greatest risk of catching flu is during the cold months between October and March. If you were not given a flu jab in the autumn, it is still sensible to be vaccinated up until the spring since you run the risk of catching flu until then.
The seasonal flu jab will protect you against the strains of virus contained in the vaccine from about 2 to 3 weeks after the injection. The incubation period for flu is a few days, so if you are exposed to flu immediately before or after your vaccination, you could still develop the illness.
The flu jab will not protect you against the common cold, even though some of the symptoms are similar to flu.
Who can have a free NHS flu jab at this pharmacy?
You may be eligible to receive an NHS flu jab if you:
- Are 65 years of age or over
- Are pregnant*
- Are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility*
- Are a carer*
- Are a household contact of an immunocompromised individual*
- Are a social care worker or hospice worker*Δ
- Have certain medical conditions* including: Asthma or COPD, Kidney disease, Neurological disease, Diabetes, Asplenia or splenic dysfunction, Heart disease, Liver disease
- Morbid obesity
- A weakened immune system due to disease or treatment
* all patients must be 18 years of age or over
Δ additional eligibility requirements apply
Additional eligibility groups during Covid-19 pandemic
- People aged 50 to 64;
Please note that people in the 50-64-year old age group will not be vaccinated until November and December, providing there is sufficient vaccine, and no appointments will be offered for this age group until then. This is to ensure that those who are most at risk are vaccinated first. If you are 50-64 and you are in one of the other groups which is eligible for the flu vaccination, for example you have a health condition which puts you at risk from the flu, you will be invited earlier.
- Household contacts of those who are on the shielded patient list.
This free service is funded by NHS England.