Along with the drizzly weather, the colder seasons also bring with them a greater risk of flu. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people see their GP with flu symptoms and some people even end up hospitalised by the virus. But you can easily try and keep flu from spoiling your winter by taking up the readily available and, in many cases, free, offer of a flu vaccination.
Why should I get a flu vaccine?
Whilst anyone can catch flu, the risk of getting seriously ill from flu gets greater as you get older, meaning it’s even more important to protect yourself from catching the virus in the first place.
The flu vaccine contains a weaker version of this year’s flu virus, so it creates antibodies in your body to fight off the virus without actually giving you flu. This means you’re far less likely to get flu compared to someone who hasn’t had the vaccine.
As the flu virus changes every year, it’s important to get vaccinated yearly, ideally between the beginning of October and early November whilst the vaccination is in stock and so that you’re all set for winter.
Am I eligible for a free vaccine?
The NHS offers free flu vaccinations to people they consider most at risk of developing the serious effects of flu. So if you are 65 or over (or will be by March 31, 2015) or have an underlying health condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or a weakened immune system, you will be entitled to get a flu vaccination free of charge.
If you are the main carer for a friend or relative you may also be entitled to a free vaccination so it’s always worth asking your doctor.
If you have grandchildren under four years old, it’s also good to know that they can now get a free flu vaccine, either in the form of a jab if they’re under two, or as a nasal spray if they are aged two, three or four.
What about the side effects?
The most important thing to remember about the flu vaccine is that it will not actually give you flu or even a cold as a side effect as the vaccine contains a deactivated version of the virus.
If you develop any flu symptoms after being vaccinated this will be because you have actually caught flu (as the vaccine is not 100% effective) not as a result of having the vaccine.
Some people do get a slight temperature or aching muscles a couple of days after having the vaccine and it’s quite common for your arm to be a little tender where the jab went in.
Where can I get a vaccine?
If you think you are eligible for a free flu vaccine, check with your GP, practice nurse or local pharmacist and they should let you know the nearest place you can get a jab.
Even if you’re not eligible for a free jab, you can still get the flu vaccine to protect yourself from illness this winter at many pharmacies and even high street shops and supermarkets. Superdrug offer one of the cheapest walk-in flu vaccine services for £9.99- you can find out more here.
What else can I do to stay healthy and stop the spread of flu?
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water
- Avoid close contact with anyone who may have flu
- Get plenty of exercise, sleep well and keep up a healthy lifestyle
- Drink plenty of fluids and try to stay warm
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze and throw the tissue away
There's more health and advice pieces in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.