Winter is coming, to quote a popular phrase, and with it, the increased chance of catching the flu and other viral illnesses. By October every year, we start to see health posters urging at-risk members of the population to get their annual flu jab.

If you are pregnant or have a long-term condition, such as breathing difficulties or asthma, don’t waste any time, head on over to your GP or pharmacist to have the free flu vaccine.

Life is busy, but there really is no excuse not to have the flu jab if you are likely to suffer increased risk from the effects of flu. Read our Q&A on why you should have the flu vaccine and how you can protect yourself and loved ones.

Do you really need to have the flu jab?

Isn’t flu just a heavy cold?
Flu is a highly infectious disease. Colds are much less serious and often start with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold, and common symptom are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. Some cases can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.

 

What causes flu?
It’s caused by influenza viruses that infect the windpipe and lungs. As it’s a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics, generally, will not treat it.

 

Who is most at risk from the effects of flu?
Pregnant women, those with long term conditions such as heart problems, breathing difficulties, lowered immunity, seriously overweight, over 65s etc.

 

I had the jab last year, why do I need it again?
The vaccine provides protection against specific flu strains and these can change every year. Also, protection from the jab only lasts about six months, so you should top up every flu season.

 

Do my children need the flu jab?
The flu vaccine doesn’t work so well in babies under six months which is why it’s important that pregnant women have the vaccine so they can pass on some of the immunity to their baby. However, if your child over six months has a long-term condition as described above, speak to your GP about them having the flu jab.

Children from the age of two are being given the vaccine at their GP practice and those in reception through to year 4 will be offered the vaccination in school.

 

What side effects should I expect?
Some people who have the nasal vaccine get a runny or blocked nose, headache, tiredness and loss of appetite. While those who have the injection may experience soreness at the site of the jab, slight fever and achy muscles. Serious side effects are uncommon.

 

Information sourced from NHS and Public Health England Winter 2017/18 The Flu Vaccination, Who should have it and why.
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