Beat flu before it beats you
Flu (influenza) is a common infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes. You can catch flu all year round, but it's especially common in winter. Flu is different to the common cold and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer.
For the majority of people who catch it, flu is unpleasant but not life-threatening. But for others, it can lead to chest infections, severe complications and in some cases even death. Globally, seasonal flu accounts for around 3-5 million causes of severe illness and up to 500,000 deaths annually.
Many people think because they are fit and well that they won’t get flu, but anyone of us can catch it. The flu virus is also constantly changing and getting your annual flu vaccination is the single most effective way of protecting you and those around you from this year’s circulating strains.
Who should have the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are at greatest risk, to help protect them against catching flu and developing serious complications.
You should have the flu vaccine if you:
- are 65 years old or over
- are pregnant
- have certain medical conditions such as diabetes, moderate to severe asthma or heart problems
- are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility
- receive a carer's allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
The flu vaccine is free on the NHS for children:
- over the age of 6 months with a long-term health condition
- aged 2 and 3 years on 31 August 2018 (those born between 1 September 2014 and 31 August 2016)
- in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
Children aged between 6 months and 2 years who are eligible for the flu vaccine will receive an injected flu vaccine. Children eligible for the flu vaccine aged between 2 and 17 usually receive the flu vaccine nasal spray.
If you are the main carer for someone who is elderly or disabled, you should speak to your GP or pharmacist about having a flu vaccine along with the person you are caring for.
You may also be advised to have the flu vaccine if you live with someone who has a weakened immune system. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for more information about this.
Protecting yourself and others
To reduce the risk of spreading flu you should regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap, use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze and put used tissues into a bin as quickly as possible.
There are many myths surrounding flu and the flu vaccine. Here are some key facts that you should know:
Myth: I got the flu vaccine years ago and it gave me flu, never again!
Fact: The flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine which means that the flu viruses in the vaccine have been killed and cannot cause flu. If you became unwell after the vaccine, this may have been a cold or another virus.
Myth: ‘I always get ill after the vaccine’
Fact: The side effects of the vaccine are usually mild or non-existent. Side effects may include feeling a bit unwell, a slight temperature, a sore arm and aching muscles, but these are short lived.
Myth: ‘I keep myself fit and well and never get ill.’
Fact: Flu is very infectious and anyone can catch it. Around 7 out of 10 people carrying the flu virus have no or only mild symptoms, however, they will still be infectious and can still spread the disease.
Myth: The flu vaccine protects you straight away
Fact: After getting the vaccine it takes around 10 days for you to become protected against flu. So it’s possible that you could pick up flu either before getting vaccinated or before the vaccine takes effect. To help protect yourself against flu it’s best to get the vaccine as early as possible and before there are lots of flu viruses circulating.
Myth: The vaccine isn’t effective
Fact: Yes it is! Getting your flu vaccine every year is the single most effective way of protecting you and those around you from flu. Although it’s impossible to predict exactly which strains of flu will be circulating each year, during the last 10 years the flu vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains of flu.
Get the flu vaccine and protect yourself and those around you.