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With winters seeming to get longer and colder, the conditions are perfect for the flu virus. Influenza spends most of the year spreading around East Asia, where the climate is cool and dry enough for it to flourish. However, once winter begins in the northern and southern hemispheres, it can roam further afield.
Influenza is an airborne virus, so it is easily passed on through coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated surfaces. And, unlike many other illnesses, having flu once doesn’t prevent you getting it again.
Flu jabs can minimise your risk of infection. If you’ve never had one before, or you want to know what’s changed, here at Mobility Plus we’ve put together everything you need to know.
Why do I need a flu jab?
Although most will get over it in their own time, the flu poses a serious health risk to certain people.
The winter flu jab is available as a free service from the NHS to those who fall into the following categories:
- Those over 65 years of age
- Adults and children with underlying health conditions, particularly lung diseases and heart conditions
- Women who are pregnant
- Adults and children with weak immune systems
If you think you are eligible for the winter flu jab, you can contact your GP and arrange an appointment, or visit a pharmacy offering the service. It’s best to have your flu jab before winter sets in; between October and November is recommended. However, the flu jab will be effective, even if you miss these times.
What’s new about flu?
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Flu has a habit of mutating, making it resistant to some forms of treatment. As a result, the vaccine needs to be regularly updated. The most recent version is the ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine, which has been developed to boost the immune systems of those over the age of 65 and optimise the way the vaccine works.
For those under the age of 65, including pregnant women and people with serious underlying health conditions, the ‘quadrivalent’ form of the vaccine is administered as an injection. This offers protection against four types of flu virus.
For children, the vaccine is available as a nasal spray and will be introduced into primary schools as a preventative measure. Children have lower levels of hand hygiene than adults, so they are more prone to spreading the infection. Immunising children against flu is a way of containing its spread to adults while giving children protection at the same time.
Are there any side-effects?
Serious side-effects brought on by the winter flu jab are a rarity. Typically, side effects tend to be little more than feeling a bit ‘achy’ for a day or two, with the possibility of a mild fever. Those who have the vaccine administered by needle may feel a little soreness where it went in, but this is common to any injection.
Those who take the vaccine as a nasal spray may experience lesser symptoms, such as a runny nose, mild fatigue, headache, and reduced appetite. These side-effects should only last for a day or two.
How else can I keep the flu at bay?
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While the winter flu jab offers a solid level of defence against the virus, it’s not 100% effective. There are additional precautions you can take to minimise the risk of catching it.
Perhaps the most important is hygiene. Flu is a resilient virus and can live on your hands and contaminate surfaces for up to 24 hours. It’s also easily spread through the air, particularly through coughing and sneezing.
The government recommends the ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’ strategy. Catch germs in tissues when you sneeze, be sure to bin those tissues, and kill any germs on your hands by washing them thoroughly.
Alcohol-based hand washes are thought to be particularly effective in killing flu germs and keeping a dispenser in your kitchen or bathroom ensures that you always have some to hand.
Perhaps the best way to avoid catching the flu is to avoid coming into contact with those who have it. However, some carriers do not show any symptoms, making this next to impossible.
The winter flu jab offers good defence against this hardy virus and it’s worth having a chat with your GP should you feel you need any further information.