What you need to know about seasonal influenza (flu)

What is flu?
Flu is caused by a virus and occurs every year, usually in the winter months, which is why it is sometimes called seasonal flu. It is highly infectious with symptoms that come on very quickly. Flu can be much worse than an ordinary cold.

Symptoms of Flu
The most common symptoms of flu are an abrupt onset of fever, chills, headache, aches, sore throat, pains in the joints and muscles, extreme tiredness and a dry cough. For most people flu infection is just a nasty experience and the symptoms are quite mild, but in others, it can lead to illnesses that are more serious. The most common complications of influenza are bronchitis and secondary bacterial pneumonia. Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but for certain risk groups (e.g. people with chronic kidney disease, Diabetes, Asthma) the virus can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.

What are the symptoms of the common cold?
Colds symptoms are limited to the upper respiratory tract with runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and throat irritation. The symptoms usually occur gradually and do not cause a fever or body aches.

How is Flu Spread?
The flu virus is highly infectious and is easily passed from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread by touching a surface contaminated with respiratory secretions and then putting the fingers in the mouth or near the eyes. The flu virus can live on hard surface for up to 24 hours and on a soft surface for around 20 minutes.

How can I reduce the spread?
To reduce the spread of the infection, it is vital that if someone has a respiratory infection they cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, dispose of the tissue in a bin and wash their hands with soap afterwards.

What precautions should people take?
Vaccination offers the best protection and people who are at high risk of infection should be vaccinated.

Who should have the vaccine?
1. everyone aged 65 and over
2. everyone under 65 years of age who has a serious medical condition, e.g. asthma, diabetes
3. all children who are two, three and four year olds on 31 August 2015
– Year 1 children ( date of birth between 1st September 2009 and on or before 31st August 2010)
– Year 2 children ( date of birth between 1st September 2008 and on or before 31st August 2009)
4. those in long-stay residential care homes
5. all pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy
6. anyone who cares for an older or disabled person
7. people who are immunosuppressed e.g. HIV infection, people undergoing chemotherapy. Household contacts of anyone who is immunosuppressed should also be given the vaccine

What do I need to do now?
If you belong to one of the groups mentioned above it is important that you have your flu vaccination. The vaccines are normally available from the beginning of October, depending on supplies. Contact your GP to attend one of their flu clinics. For some GPs you do not need an appointment to have the vaccines. You can also go to your local pharmacy.

Frequent Asked Questions
I had the flu vaccination last year. Do I need another flu jab this year?
Yes; the flu vaccine for this winter provides protection against some different strains of flu from last year’s. For this reason we strongly recommend that even if you were vaccinated last year, you should be vaccinated again this year. A previous flu infection or vaccination will not necessarily provide protection against further infections because the virus is continually changing genetically and different types circulate each winter.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t have the vaccination?
Almost everybody can have the vaccine, but you should not be vaccinated if you have had a serious allergy to the vaccine in the past. If you are allergic to eggs you may not be able to have certain types of flu vaccine – check with your GP. If you have a fever, the vaccination may be delayed until you are better.

Can the Vaccine cause flu?
No. The vaccine cannot cause flu because it doesn’t contain live virus

Will I get any side effects?
Flu vaccines are very safe. There are some fairly common but mild side effects. Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected. Any other reactions are very rare.

How long will I be protected for?
The vaccine should provide protection throughout the 2015/16 flu season.

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