It’s that time of the year again. The long, warm summer days already seem a distant memory as we dig out our big coats and umbrellas ready for winter, writes Dr Jonty Heaversedge…
And with winter comes ‘seasonal flu’ – an unpleasant virus that is highly infectious and can be spread rapidly through coughs and sneezes.
Flu can be particularly nasty, causing high temperatures, body aches and generally leaving you feeling pretty exhausted and unwell.
For most people who catch it, you should start to feel better within a week or so. Just stay at home, drink plenty of water and rest until you’re better. Your pharmacist can advise on treatments and remedies to reduce the effects, and if you feel really ill, call 111.
However, some people are more susceptible to the effects of flu, with the virus increasing the risk of developing more serious illnesses, which could result in hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.
Last winter, more than five thousand people were hospitalised because of flu and the virus kills an average of eight thousand people annually.
That’s why the NHS offers free vaccinations for those at particular risk of flu. This includes:
- People with existing health conditions: for example, things like heart problems, breathing conditions, liver or kidney diseases, or neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. Flu on top of these conditions increases your chances of serious health complications.
- Adults aged 65 and over: this group may suffer more than most if catching flu, so it’s important to get vaccinated.
- Pregnant women: pregnancy weakens the body’s immune system, which means you’re less able to fight off infections. Catching flu can cause serious complications for women and their babies, and the flu jab is the safety way to protect yourselves.
- Children: flu can be particularly nasty for children, who also tend to be super-spreaders – infecting other vulnerable family members. The flu vaccine can help protect your children and reduce the chances of them spreading it to others. For most children, the vaccine is a quick and easy nasal spray, rather than an injection. Children aged 2 and 3 (on 31 August 2019) receive the vaccine through their GP and all primary school aged children receive it in schools.
The flu jab is the best protection we have against this unpredictable virus. That’s why it’s free – because groups who are most at risk really need it.
And you need to have the vaccination every year; even if you had one last year, you must be vaccinated again to help protect yourself against new, different strains of flu.
If you are eligible for the flu vaccine, contact your GP, pharmacist or midwife to make sure you have it at the earliest opportunity – the sooner the better.