Headaches, sore throats, runny noses, high fevers, aching limbs… Flu’s no fun. And even when it’s gone – usually within a week if you’re usually fit and healthy – you can feel wiped out for two or three weeks afterwards.
Antibiotics don’t make a dent; you just have to wait it out, but resting, keeping warm and drinking plenty of fluids will help it on its way and paracetamol or ibuprofen will ease aches and pains.
There are three types of flu – A, B and C – and every year, the strains can change, which is why flu jabs are an annual thing. This year’s injection (2015/16) is designed to protect you against A/H1N1 (swine flu), A/H3N2 and B/Phuket/3073/2013.
Flu is highly contagious – it spreads through coughs and sneezes – so if you catch it, be considerate! You’ll be infectious for around the first five days. Try coughing into your elbow rather than your hand to reduce the risk of infecting others and add a hand sanitizer to your shopping list.
What does the flu jab do?
By introducing a small amount of the flu virus into the body, the vaccine encourages the production of antibodies that fight infection, so if the full virus attacks, the body is ready to defend itself.
No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, but if you’ve had the jab and fall ill, chances are the symptoms will be much milder. Side effects from the injection are few and far between, although you may feel a bit achy, get a slight temperature or feel more tired than usual.
Who shouldn’t have the jab?
Got an egg allergy? Some flu jabs are made using eggs so talk to your GP about an egg-free version. It’s also best avoided if you’ve had an allergic reaction to the flu jab itself in the past.
It’s fine to have the injection if you’re on antibiotics, but if you’re running a fever, wait until your temperature is back to normal before rolling up your sleeve. Speak to your GP if you're unsure.
Who is the flu jab for?
Flu is only a hot topic if there are complications – about 600 people die from them every year in the UK. Depending on age or pre-existing medical conditions, bronchitis, pneumonia and nerve damage are a risk and then the vaccine can literally be a lifesaver.
High-risk groups include:
- Children under two
- Adults over 65
- Pregnant women
- People with chronic organ or neurological diseases
- Those with HIV or an underactive immune system.
- People with severe asthma
If either you or your child falls into one of the high-risk categories, talk to your GP rather than going to a participating chemist for the vaccination.
When should I have the flu jab?
Flu can crop up at any time of the year, but it’s more common in winter. Doctors and chemists are geared up to provide the vaccination from late October/early November, although you can do it anytime. Just bear in mind that it takes 10-14 days to become fully effective and it’s much better to get it before an outbreak is out there.
Is there an alternative to the injection?
For two and three year olds and older children with long-term health problems, there’s a nasal spray alternative provided by GPs as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. It’s more effective for little ones than the injection. A programme is also rolling out to offer the ‘no needle’ option to 11 and 12 year olds through schools.
Can I get it for free?
If you’re in one of the high-risk groups, yes. The free vaccine also applies to those living long-term in a residential care home or if you’re a carer for someone whose wellbeing would suffer if you fall ill. Health and social care workers may also be eligible.
If you’re not entitled to a free jab, it costs up to £20 from chemists or pop into your local Tesco Pharmacy. Vaccinations are given by a trained pharmacist and cost £9 for eligible customers over 12.
Find your nearest Tesco Pharmacy here.