Protect yourself with the flu vaccine
Flu is not a ‘bad cold’. Colds and flu share some of the same symptoms (cough, sore throat), but are caused by different viruses. Flu can be much more serious than a cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.
If you’re generally fit and healthy, you can usually manage the symptoms of a cold or flu yourself without seeing a doctor. Look after yourself by resting, drinking non-alcoholic fluids to avoid dehydration and avoiding strenuous activity. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can relieve aches and pains.
Cold and flu viruses are spread by droplets that are coughed or sneezed out by an infected person. Other people can breathe in these droplets or transfer the droplets to their eyes or nose, via their fingers.
You can protect yourself and others against colds and flu by:
- Having a flu jab every year if you’re aged 65 or over or in a risk group.
- Coughing or sneezing into a tissue
- Throwing a used tissue away as soon as possible
- Washing your hands as soon as possible.
Colds and flu viruses can also be passed on via infected droplets on objects or surfaces, such as door handles. To prevent passing on or getting colds and flu wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes and nose.
Some people need to take extra care as they’re more at risk of serious chest complications, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. People aged 65 and over are more at risk of complications. People under 65, and children, are more at risk of complications if they have long term chronic health conditions including asthma, diabetes, kidney or liver disease and those with lowered immunity due to disease or medical treatment.
Flu is caused by several viruses and the main circulating strains change every year, this is why you need to have a flu jab every year. Even if you do catch flu, you can also go on to catch another strain, so it’s recommended you have the flu vaccination even if you’ve recently had flu.
But flu can be more severe in certain people, such as:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (such as long-term heart or respiratory disease)
- children and adults with weakened immune systems
Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so it’s recommended that they have a flu vaccine every year to help protect them.
In addition, children “at risk” of serious illness if they catch the flu are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS. The flu vaccine isn’t suitable for babies under the age of six months.
You should have the vaccine whatever stage of pregnancy you are in. If you’re pregnant you could get very ill if you get flu, which could also be bad for your baby. Having the injected flu vaccine can also protect your baby against flu after they’re born and during the early months of life.
Most pharmacies offer a walk-in service and the jab takes a matter of seconds to administer.
It is better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually in October, but it’s always worth getting vaccinated before flu comes around right up until March.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
This year the flu vaccine is being offered on the NHS to:
- adults 65 and over
- people with certain medical conditions (including children in at-risk groups from 6 months of age)
- pregnant women
- people living with someone who’s at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
- children aged 2 and 3 on 31 August 2020
- children in primary school
- children in year 7 (secondary school)
- frontline health or social care workers
Later in the year, the flu vaccine may be given to people aged 50 to 64. More information will be available later in the autumn.
However, if you’re aged 50 to 64 and in an at-risk group, you should not delay having your flu vaccine.
Read the answers to some common questions about flu and the flu vaccine.
There are many myths surrounding flu and the flu vaccine. The NHS Choices website show’s 10 common flu myths and the truth behind them.
You can find out more about the flu vaccine on the NHS website.
Other vaccinations for people at higher risk of illness
Pneumonia is swelling (inflammation) of the tissue in one or both lungs. It can be very dangerous and is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Pneumococcal vaccination is very effective at preventing pneumococcal infections. There are two types of pneumococcal vaccination – one for children, and one for adults.
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