As winter draws closer outside temperatures drop, and the evenings quickly fade to darkness. But there is something else associated with winter most of us would rather not be exposed to – the flu.
In this blog post we discuss the flu vaccine, who is eligible to receive it for free and the myths that surround it.
What is the flu?
The Flu, or influenza to give it its full name, is a contagious respiratory illness which tends to be more common during colder months. A cold and the flu share symptoms, but those with flu will feel much worse.
Common flu symptoms include:
- A dry cough or sore throat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite or feeling sick
- An aching body
- A sudden temperature
Healthy adults usually recover from the flu within a week, but for those in vulnerable groups, recovery can be much more difficult – and symptoms can develop into severe illnesses. Groups vulnerable to the flu include; people with underlying health conditions, pregnant women and older people.
This is why the NHS advises that those in vulnerable groups have the flu vaccine annually.
Who can receive the flu vaccine from free on the NHS?
In the UK, the following groups are eligible for a free flu vaccine:
- People aged 65 and over
- Primary school children
- 2 and 3-year-olds
- Those with underlying health conditions
- Pregnant women
- Frontline social and health care workers
- Main carers for the elderly or disabled
Those not eligible for a free flu vaccine can still be vaccinated for a fee at GP’s surgeries and most pharmacies.
How does the flu vaccine work?
The flu vaccine is designed to stimulate your immune system, so it attacks the virus. If you come into contact with the flu virus after having the vaccine, your immune system will recognise the virus and should immediately produce antibodies to fight it.
Every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reviews flu strains – and the ones which are most likely to affect people in the following winter. The flu vaccine is updated every year based on this recommendation. This is why those who receive or want the flu vaccine - have to get it every year. The same flu vaccine is shared across the northern hemisphere.
Will the flu vaccine give me the flu?
The flu vaccine does not give you flu. Some forms of the vaccine contain live but weakened flu viruses – but this will not give the person receiving it the flu. Some people who receive the vaccine experience sore muscles and a slight temperature for a couple of days, but this reaction is very rare.
I’ve had the flu already this year – will the vaccine still work?
If you’re in one of the vulnerable groups mentioned earlier in this article – you should still get the vaccine.
Flu can be caused by many different strains – and your immunity may only work against one of them following the flu you already had. You could still catch the flu from another strain – so it is still worth having the vaccine if you want to be protected against this.
How is the flu vaccine administered?
Adults usually receive the flu vaccine via an injection in the upper arm. Children between the age of 2 to 17 years old usually receive the vaccine through a nasal spray, or if this is not possible – an injection in the upper thigh.
Does the flu vaccine protect me straight away?
It can take up to 10 – 14 days for your immunity to build up after you have had the flu vaccine.
Can the flu be treated with antibiotics?
No – flu is a virus, and therefore it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics only work on bacteria. Some people with flu can be treated with antiviral medications. They do not cure the flu – but can make you less infectious to others.
More About the Flu Vaccine
If you would like to find out more about the flu vaccine, visit the NHS website or contact your GP or pharmacist.