Flu is an illness caused by the influenza virus and is spread in small droplets of saliva when a person coughs or sneezes. It is most common in winter months, usually from October until April. Symptoms can come on quickly and can be severe. It typically causes a temperature, headache, aching muscles, cough and a sore throat.
In healthy people, flu symptoms are unpleasant but resolve by themselves in about a week. However certain groups of people are at risk of developing potentially serious side effects, such as pneumonia. These include older people, pregnant women, people with underlying health problems or weakened immune systems. This is why we have a seasonal flu vaccination programme to help protect not only patients at increased risk but also the wider public by making it harder for the flu virus to spread. The vaccine is offered annually as the viruses that cause flu can change every year, which means the flu (and the vaccine) this winter may be different from last winter.
Figures from the last flu season (2018/19) show that the vaccine was very effective in those patients over 65 years old and was also effective in the other patient groups as well. Studies have shown that the flu vaccine will help prevent you from getting the flu however it won’t stop all flu viruses. If you do get flu after your vaccination it’s likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
There is a common misconception that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. In fact, the injected flu vaccine given to adults contains inactivated or dead flu viruses, so it cannot give you flu. The children’s nasal spray flu vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that will not give your child flu. The vaccine works by stimulating your body’s immune system to make antibodies to attack the flu virus. Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight off germs, such as viruses. That means that if you’re exposed to the flu virus after you’ve had the flu vaccine, your immune system will recognise the virus and immediately produce antibodies to fight it.
It may take 10 to 14 days for your immunity to build up fully after you have had the flu vaccine. To help stop the flu virus from spreading there are some simple but effective measures that we can all take. These will also help to stop the spread of COVID-19. These include:
- Washing your hands often with warm water and soap
- Wear a face covering
- Remember to socially distance
- Use tissues to trap germs when you cough and sneeze
- Bin used tissues as quickly as possible
- If you are unwell with flu-like symptoms (and if possible) stay off work or school, rest, keep warm and drink plenty of water. Take paracetamol to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains you may have.
As flu is a virus, antibiotics will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery. This is why they are not prescribed by doctors.
This year, early demand for the flu vaccine has been higher than usual. The Department of Health and Social Care has procured additional doses of seasonal flu vaccine, but due to a phased delivery of stock and high uptake, some patients may have to wait for their vaccination. We will contact our eligible patients when we are able to offer them an appointment.