Winter is coming and everyone is sick. It’s time to think about getting the flu jab.
The coughers, the sneezers, the snifflers. They’re stood behind you on the tube, they’re sat next to you at work, they just shook your hand in a meeting.
Coughs and colds are part and parcel of the changing seasons, but flu is different. Flu is caused by different viruses and can be much more serious – and people die every year from complications like bronchitis or pneumonia.
We know what you’re thinking. Sure, flu can be serious, but not if you’re young, healthy and fit, right?
Well, not exactly. Complications from the flu can develop in anyone. 17,000 people in the EU die from flu annually – and not all of them are older or vulnerable. It’s less likely if you’re young and healthy, but it does happen.
Experts have also warned that a stronger strain of flu – known as Aussie flu – is set to hit the UK this winter.
This type of flu apparently has worse symptoms than normal flu and carry a higher risk of complications, so health professionals are recommending that people take extra precautions.
It’s also important in order to stop the spread of the illness. Even if catching flu yourself might do nothing worse than leave you housebound for a week, if you pass it on to a vulnerable family member, neighbour or colleague, the consequences for them could be much worse.
‘Although flu is generally more dangerous in at-risk groups, it can sometimes cause serious illness and even death, in previously healthy people,’ explains Dr Clare Morrison, GP and medical advisor at Medexpress.
‘This can happen if it leads to pneumonia, for instance.
‘Therefore I recommend that everyone has a flu jab.’
The at-risk groups that Dr Morrison is talking about includes people who are aged over 65, pregnant women, carers of the elderly and people who already have a serious medical condition.
‘Flu vaccination reduces the risk of influenza and reduces the risk of flu-related complications if you do get it,’ says Dr Morrison. ‘It’s free for children, elderly, and those in at-risk groups such as diabetics, and asthmatics.’
Those who don’t fall into any of the high-risk groups still have a responsibility to limit their exposure to the illness – to stop people from becoming seriously unwell.
A US study found that young, low-risk adults getting the flu vaccination helps to protect older, at-risk groups.
The study, published recently in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, suggests a link between the flu vaccination rates of young adults and lower flu risk for older adults.
‘This indicates that older adults were less likely to be diagnosed with the flu if they lived in communities where younger, healthy adults received the flu vaccine,’ says the study’s author Glen Taksler, PhD.
It’s what’s known as community immunity.
What are the risks of the flu jab?
There’s a common misconception that getting the flu jab will give you the flu. You might feel a little bit achy or have a mild fever for a day or so after getting the jab, but the NHS says that more serious side effects are rare.
One thing to be wary of is an allergic reaction to the jab – but again this is very unlikely.
‘It’s rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction to a vaccination. If this does happen, it usually happens within minutes,’ reads the NHS website.
‘The person who vaccinates you or your child will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.’
Where can you get the flu jab?
The flu vaccination is available free of charge on the NHS for vulnerable and at-risk adults and children. So you can just book an appointment with your GP.
If you don’t fall into one of these at-risk groups, you can pay for the flu vaccine privately.
The NHS website says that flu jabs can cost up to £20 – but think of what you’ll save on Lemsip and tissues.
You can get the winter flu jab at Boots for just £12.99, all you have to do is book an appointment online and you can pop in during your lunch break.
When is the best time to get the flu jab?
Basically… now. The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to the end of November.
You can still have it later in the winter, but it’s best to get it earlier to minimise your risk of getting ill.
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