Flu and the Flu Vaccine
Flu is a highly infectious illness that spreads rapidly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are carrying the virus.
If you’re at risk of complications from flu, make sure you have your annual flu jab available from September onwards.
Flu symptoms can hit quite suddenly and severely. They usually include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles. You can often get a cough and sore throat.
Because flu is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t treat it.
Anyone can get flu, but it can be more serious for certain people, such as:
- people aged 65 or over
- people who have a serious medical condition
- pregnant women
If you are in one of these groups, you’re more vulnerable to the effects of flu (even if you’re fit and healthy) and could develop flu complications, which are more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, which could result in hospitalisation.
Flu can also make existing medical conditions worse.
Read more about flu.
Should you have the flu jab?
See your GP about the flu jab if you’re 65 or over, or if you have any of the following problems (however old you are):
- a serious heart complaint
- a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema
- serious kidney disease
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancer treatment
- if you have a problem with your spleen or you have had your spleen removed
- if you have ever had a stroke
Your GP may advise you to have a flu jab if you have serious liver disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or some other diseases of the nervous system.
Can I get a flu jab privately?
Yes, you can pay for the flu vaccination privately if you’re unable to have it on the NHS. It is available from some pharmacies and GPs on a private patient basis.
Pregnant women and the flu jab
If you’re pregnant, you should have the flu jab, regardless of the stage of pregnancy you’ve reached. Pregnant women are more prone to complications from flu that can cause serious illness for both mother and baby.
If you are pregnant and catch flu, talk to your GP urgently as you may need treatment with antiviral medicine.
Read more about the flu jab in pregnancy.
Children and the flu jab
You may have read that all children are now able to have the flu jab on the NHS. This isn’t quite true. Although it’s been recommended that all children between the ages of 2 and 17 should have an annual flu vaccination, this won’t be offered to them on the NHS until 2014. For more information read our flu vaccine for children Q&A.
In the meantime, it’s important that children with a long-term health condition receive the flu jab because their illness could get worse if they catch flu. This includes any child over the age of six months with a long-term health problem such as a serious respiratory or neurological condition.
If you have a child with a long-term condition, speak to your GP about whether they should have the flu vaccination.
Carers and the flu jab
If you’re the carer of an elderly or disabled person, make sure they’ve had their flu jab. As a carer, you could be eligible for a flu jab too. Ask your GP for advice, or read our information about Flu jabs for carers.
How to get the flu jab
If you think you need a flu vaccination, check with your GP, practice nurse or your local pharmacist.
The best time of the year to have a flu vaccination is in the autumn from September to early November. Most GP surgeries arrange flu vaccination clinics around this time. It’s free and it’s effective against the latest flu virus strains.
Even if you’ve already had a flu jab in previous years, you need another one this year. The flu jab may only protect you for a year. This is because the viruses that cause flu are always changing.
The pneumo jab
When you see your GP for a flu jab, ask whether you also need the ‘pneumo jab‘ to protect you against some forms of pneumococcal infection. Like the flu jab, it’s available free on the NHS to everyone aged 65 or over, and for younger people with some serious medical conditions.
How effective is the flu jab?
No vaccine is 100% effective, however, people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu. If you do get flu despite having the jab, it will probably be milder than if you haven’t been vaccinated.
The flu jab doesn’t cause flu as it doesn’t contain live viruses. However, you may experience side effects after having the jab, such as a temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. Your arm may feel sore at the site where you were injected. More severe reactions are rare.
The flu vaccine only protects against flu, but not other illnesses caused by other viruses, such as the common cold.
Who shouldn’t have the flu jab?
You shouldn’t have the flu vaccination if:
- you’ve had a serious reaction to a flu vaccination before
- you have a high temperature (postpone it until you’re better)
Not all flu vaccines are suitable for children, so discuss this with your GP beforehand.
Speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist if you have any further questions.
Read more about the flu jab.
Content provided by NHS Choices.