That time of year

It’s autumn, the time of year when coughs, colds and the dreaded flu become more prevalent. Once you’ve had the flu you never forget how miserable it makes you feel. The high temperatures, tiredness, weakness, headaches, coughs, aches and pains – flu isn’t something any of us want to repeat in a hurry. Flu is highly contagious and is easily passed by coughing, sniffing or touching infected surfaces or people. The NHS has already warned that flu may be more prevalent this year than usual.

High risk groups

Some people are naturally more susceptible to the flu virus than others. As doctors, we are particularly concerned about the effects of flu in patients that are:

  • Over the age of 65.
  • Children and adults who have a weakened immune system or any kind of underlying health condition, such as heart or lung disease.
  • Pregnant women.

Am I eligible?

The flu vaccination is available free for these high-risk groups on the NHS. If you don’t fall into one of these groups, but want to stay healthy and prevent the spread of flu, it’s also available privately through the Kalmed Clinic.

World Health Organisation Guidelines (WHO)

The WHO recommends vaccines every year for viruses most likely to cause flu. The flu vaccination protects against four strains of flu, including that associated with swine flu, and other strains which affect the elderly, children and those who are already unwell. Because the prevalent strains of flu change, if you’re in a high-risk group you’re advised to have the jab every year.

The vaccination

The flu vaccination is administered to adults by injection but children receive it via a nasal spray. The vaccination itself is quick and easy, and although no vaccination is claimed to be 100 percent effective, the flu jab will give you effective protection against the types of flu identified by the WHO.

How does it work?

Like any vaccination, the flu jab stimulates your body’s immune system to make antibodies to repel the virus. So, if you are exposed to the flu virus after you’ve had the vaccine, your immune system recognises the virus and produces the antibodies to protect you from flu.

When is the best time to have the vaccination?

The vaccination is available from September to the new year but the optimum time to have the jab is from early October to November.

Possible side effects

Side effects of the jab are generally mild, including:

  • Slight fever
  • Aching muscles
  • Injection site on your arm might ache a little
  • Children may experience a runny nose after the nasal spray

You can’t catch flu from the vaccination itself because it doesn’t contain any active viruses. Paracetamol or ibuprofen should do the trick. Remember never to give aspirin to children under 16.  Serious allergic reactions to the flu jab are very rare. If you have experienced a serious allergic reaction in the past you should avoid any further flu vaccinations.

If you do get flu

Although unpleasant, if you are otherwise fit and healthy, you may not need to see a doctor if you come down with flu. The best thing to do is:

  • Stay at home
  • Keep warm
  • Drink plenty of water (to stay hydrated)
  • Take Paracetamol and Ibuprofen (Calpol for children) to bring your temperature down and relieve aches and pains

Be aware that you will be most infectious at the time you start feeling ill and you should avoid unnecessary contact with anyone, particularly children, people over 65 and pregnant women, for about a week.

After a week or so, you’ll start feeling better, although you may be tired for some time to come. It can take children and old people longer to get over the flu.

Pregnant women and the flu jab

It’s recommended that all pregnant women have the flu jab, whatever the stage of their pregnancy. Flu can cause complications for both you and your baby. It can easily develop into bronchitis or more seriously pneumonia. The effects on the baby can be severe – ranging from a low birth weight baby to a stillborn. The vaccine is safe for both pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Talk to us

If you have any questions about this blog or would like to discuss or book the flu vaccination, please do not hesitate to contact us and speak with Dr Lifson.