Flu, or influenza, is caused by a virus and can cause fever, coughing, congestion, headaches and a feeling of severe tiredness. Symptoms may last for up to two weeks, generally followed by fatigue for a few weeks while your body recovers. The flu vaccination may help prevent you from catching this infection.
What is the flu vaccination?
There are four types of influenza viruses, each with different strains. Each year, a strain of flu virus changes slightly and goes on to cause what health organisations call an epidemic, a term to describe lots of people catching the same thing at the same time. Usually in winter, the annual flu epidemic, often called 'cold and flu season' affects a large number of people at a time.
Every year, scientists develop a flu vaccination, often called the flu jab, to combat the strains they think are most likely to cause an epidemic. You may still get influenza after taking the flu jab if you happen to get infected with a strain that isn't covered by the vaccination, but it can reduce the severity and length of your illness.
Why should I get the flu vaccination?
Catching the flu often means days of bed rest, missing work and appointments. The flu jab can help you avoid this. Getting vaccinated is also important for certain people who are likely to have more severe symptoms and can even develop complications from the flu, like pneumonia and bronchitis. These include:
• Those who have a compromised immune system or certain medical conditions
• Young children, elderly and pregnant women
• Carers, healthcare workers and social workers (who could risk infecting vulnerable people)
When should I get the vaccination?
The flu vaccination is usually available to take around September or October. However, it's still effective if you take it later than this.
How can I get the flu vaccination?
The flu vaccination is available as an injection given in the muscle of the upper arm, or sometimes as a nasal spray, though this method is usually reserved for children.
The vaccination is considered more important for at risk groups:
• Those 65 years of age and over
• Children in certain age groups or with certain long-term medical conditions
• Pregnant women
• Those who have compromised immune systems or certain medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and asthma
• Residents at long-term residential homes
• Carers or those who take care of an elderly or disabled person
If you're in one of these groups, you should be able to get a flu jab at your Doctors.
What are the side effects of the flu vaccination?
You may get a mild fever and sore muscles for a day or two after having the flu jab. You may also have some pain around the injection area. In very rare circumstances you may have an allergic reaction to the vaccination – particularly if you're allergic to eggs.
It's best to consult your doctor or pharmacist if you're thinking of getting the flu jab and you're concerned it might not be suitable for you. If you think you're having an allergic reaction you should contact your Doctor, or go to hospital immediately if your symptoms are severe or you're worried.
What are the next steps?
• Consider having the flu vaccination to help prevent catching the flu
• Ask your doctor or pharmacist before getting the flu vaccination if you are concerned about reactions or have had allergic reactions in the past