Flu occurs every year, usually in the winter, which is why it’s sometimes called seasonal flu. It’s a highly infectious disease with symptoms that come on very quickly. Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat.
A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold. The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.
Flu is caused by influenza viruses that infect the windpipe and lungs. And because it’s caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t treat it. If, however, there are complications from getting flu, antibiotics may be needed.
When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spread the flu virus in tiny droplets of saliva over a wide area. These droplets can then be breathed in by other people or they can be picked up by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed. You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and you can wash your hands frequently or use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus.
But the best way to avoid catching and spreading flu is by having the vaccination before the flu season starts. Flu can affect anyone but if you have a long-term health condition the effects of flu can make it worse even if the condition is well managed and you normally feel well.
You should have the free flu vaccine if you are:
- Pregnant or have one of the following long-term conditions:
- A heart problem
- A chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
- A kidney disease
- Lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
- Liver disease
- Had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
- A neurological condition, eg multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or learning disability
- A problem with your spleen, eg sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
- Are seriously overweight.
Who should consider having a flu vaccination?
All those who have any condition listed above, or who are:
- Aged 65 years or over
- Living in a residential or nursing home
- The main carer of an older or disabled person
- A household contact of an immunocompromised person
- A frontline health or social care worker
- Children of a certain age.
Find out more about the flu vaccination and Staying Well This Winter:
- Flu Vaccination Winter 2016-17 leaflet
- Protecting your child against flu - leaflet for parents
- All about flu and how to stop getting it - easy read leaflet
- We’re here to help you stay well this winter - large print version
- Do you hage a long term condition or are you 65 or over - large print leaflet
- Things to help you stay well this winter if you are 65 or over or you already have a health problem - easy read leaflet
- Stay Well This Winter - audio message