The Flu vaccine, more commonly known as the “Flu Jab”, is the best way to protect yourself from catching the Influenza virus. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what the Flu actually is, what the common symptoms are and how the Flu Jab can help keep you safe from it.
What is “the flu”?
“The Flu” is the short name for Influenza which is a very contagious respiratory virus and is classed as a major public health concern in the UK. Each year, the flu is responsible for hundreds and thousands of GP visits and hospitals stays, and can even lead to death in those most vulnerable. The most common strains of Influenza are the types A and B which can affect people of all ages and most cases are seen during the winter months.
What are the symptoms of flu?
Flu symptoms are often confused with those of the “common cold”. While the cold is also caused by a virus, the symptoms of the Flu tend to be much more pronounced, aggressive and long-lasting. Most people simply can’t get out of bed when struck down with the Flu and, on occasion, can lead to life-threatening complications. Symptoms of the Flu can include:
– A fever and high temperature
– Shaking, tremor and sweating
– Muscle pain, fatigue and weakness
– A cough and sore throat
– Nasal congestion
– Loss of appetite
The symptoms of flu can last up to two weeks but there have been cases where they last longer, causing further complication. If you do contract the flu and your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it’s important that you go and see your pharmacist or GP for medical advice and/or assistance.
Who is at most risk from the flu?
The flu can affect everyone but there are people who are more susceptible to catching the flu. If they do, then their symptoms are usually worse and complications can occur. Those groups who are more vulnerable include:
– The elderly
– Children and adults who have a lowered immune system, either through a condition (acute or chronic) or by taking immunosuppressant medication
– Children and adults with respiratory conditions, such as asthma and COPD
– Pregnant women
The problem with the flu is that is so easily spread from person to person and so is hard to keep under control. That’s why Public Health England and the NHS have created a National Flu Vaccination programme that allows pharmacies to deliver the flu jab free of charge
How to stop catching the flu
Get the Flu Jab
The flu jab is the most effective treatment at preventing infection by the influenza vaccine. Like all vaccines, it isn’t 100% effective since there may be some strains of flu that it won’t offer protection for. However, it will protect you from 90-95% of the most common strains that are present in that year. In the rare circumstance that you do contract the flu after you’ve had the flu jab, then your symptoms will be less aggressive and shorter-lived than usual. There is also evidence that the flu jab can reduce the incidence of strokes.
“The flu jab can give you the flu” – This simply isn’t true.
How does the Flu Jab work?
The flu jab contains a substance that mimics the flu virus so that when injected into the body, it stimulates the immune system to produce white blood cells and proteins. Therefore, if you’re exposed to the flu virus, your body will be able to fight it off, since you already have the white blood cells in your system. The flu will not be able to replicate.
From the moment you are injected, it takes around 2 weeks to develop enough white blood cells in your body to gain immunity from the flu. It is recommended that you get vaccinated with the flu jab each year since your immunity weakens with time and different strains may prevail each year.
Is the flu jab the same each year?
Every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) assess which strains of flu will be the most prevalent in the northern hemisphere for the winter months. It is based on this assessment that manufacturers begin to produce vaccines that fight against specific strains. Therefore, vaccines may change from year to year.
For 2017/18, WHO recommends that vaccines are manufactured to protect against the following strains of influenza:
– A/H1N1 (A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus) – This strain was responsible for the swine flu pandemic back in 2009.
– A/H3N2 (A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus) – This strain mainly affects the elderly and those with chronic conditions.
– Influenza B (B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus) – This strain of flu mainly affects children.
Are there any side effects?
It’s extremely rare to experience any serious side effects once vaccinated but commonly, you can feel tired for a few days and your arm can be sore. When you do get vaccinated, the pharmacist should give you some information about the vaccine itself and they will happily answer your questions around it.
When is the best time to have the flu jab?
Since the prevalence of flu occurs mostly in the winter months, it’s advised to get vaccinated in the autumn months so that you build up protection before hand. Most people tend to get the vaccine in October and the beginning of November but you can certainly ask to be vaccinated later than this.
Keeping good hygiene
Making sure you adopt good hygiene is important in reducing the risk of you catching the flu, even after you’ve had the flu jab. You will also help to prevent the spread of the virus to others.
You can keep a good level of hygiene by:
– Washing your hands on a regular basis with warm soap and water
– Cleaning surfaces that you touch regularly, such as keyboards, desks and handles of sorts
– Covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
– Placing used tissues in bins
Enhancing your immune system naturally
Diet and Antioxidants
Making sure you eat well is imperative to keeping your immune system strong and there are specific foods that are high in antioxidants which have been linked to boosting the immune system.
Another way to help improve your immune system is by exercising on a regular basis. The effects of exercise can help you flush bacteria and other particles from your lungs more efficiently and speed up the activity of your white blood cells.
This is the most underrated form of medication in the world. Sleeping well is the body’s best and most natural way of building a strong immune system. Try to get around 8 hours of sleep a day and let system recover and grow.
Where can I get the flu jab?
A Community Pharmacy
The most accessible and convenient place to get a flu jab is at a pharmacy. Most pharmacies across England now provide the free NHS flu jab as well as a private service for those who aren’t eligible for the free one. To find a pharmacy that is offering the flu jab near you, we have developed a very helpful search tool that you can use. Click here to access.
Your GP Surgery
Your GP surgery is more than likely to be offering the flu jab at scheduled times during the autumn months. Find your GP surgery here.