What is Flu?
Flu (also known as influenza) is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus. It spreads rapidly through small droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. For most people, flu is unpleasant but not serious. You will usually recover within a week. Studies have shown that flu vaccines provide effective protection against the flu, although protection may not be complete and may vary between people. Protection from the vaccine gradually decreases as flu strains change over time. Therefore, new vaccines are made each year and people at risk of flu are encouraged to be vaccinated every year.
The influenza vaccination is offered to people in at-risk groups. These people are at greater risk of developing serious complications if they catch flu, such as pregnant women and elderly people. The flu immunisation can be given at the same time as other immunisations; it is often given at the same time as the pneumonia immunisation. It is also safe to be given if you are either pregnant or breast-feeding.
While you can catch flu all year round, it is especially common throughout winter, which is why flu is also known as “seasonal flu”. During ‘Flu Season’ – September to March – is when the practice has a stock of vaccines and we will routinely offer influenza vaccines to all patients in any of the below at-risk categories.
Who should be immunised against the seasonal flu virus?
The latest list of those eligible can be found here. In summary:
- All patients ages 50 and over.
- Pregnant Women.
- All children aged two to four years old
- All children in school years one and two should be vaccinated in school.
- Children aged over six months with a long term health condition.
- If you care for someone who is elderly or disabled.
- If you are a healthcare worker with direct patient contact.
- If you live in a nursing home or other long-stay residential care accommodation.
In addition to the main at-risk groups of people listed above, you should be immunised if you have been diagnosed with any of the below long term health conditions:
This list of conditions isn’t definitive. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you individually to take into account your risk of flu exacerbating any underlying illness you may have, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself. The vaccine should always be offered in such cases, even if you are not technically in one of the risk groups above. If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system, you may also be advised to have a flu vaccine. Speak to your GP about this.
Who should not have the seasonal flu jab?
The vast majority of people can receive the flu immunisation. However, the following groups of people should not be immunised:
- Those who have a severe allergy to eggs. However, you can still receive a different immunisation that protects against the swine flu strain (H1N1v).
- Those who have had a previous allergic reaction to a flu virus immunisation in the past.
- Children who do not have a good working immune system, for example children with leukaemia or HIV.
Will the flu jab give me flu?
No. The vaccine doesn’t contain any live viruses, so it can’t cause flu. Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and you may feel a bit sore at the injection site.
Read more about flu vaccine side effects.
What are the possible complications of flu and flu-like illnesses?
If you are normally well then you are unlikely to develop complications. You are likely to recover fully. However, see a doctor if symptoms change or become worse. Complications are more likely to develop if you are in any of the at-risk groups listed above. The most common complication is a chest infection caused by a germ (bacterium). This may develop in addition to the viral infection (that is, a secondary infection). This can sometimes become serious and develop into pneumonia. A course of antibiotic medicines will often cure this. However, a bacterial infection can sometimes become life-threatening, particularly in those who are frail or elderly.
Note: with flu or a flu-like illness it is common to have a cough that lingers for 1-2 weeks after other symptoms have gone. Green sputum does not necessarily mean that you have a secondary chest infection. The symptoms to look out for that may indicate a secondary chest infection include a recurrence of a high temperature (fever), worsening of cough, shortness of breath, fast breathing, and chest pain. Other complications that sometimes occur include a sinus infection and an ear infection. Other serious complications are rare.