Christmas is fast approaching and every year there feels like so much to do – presents to buy, people to see, food to prepare… With so much to get done before the big day, now is definitely not the time to be falling ill! Unfortunately, this week has seen England’s top doctors warn of a sharp rise in flu-like illnesses this Christmas, with thousands of people said to be at risk. In the first week of December alone, GP consultations for flu-like illness were up by a quarter to nearly 7,500 visits.
With many people travelling to visit family and friends over the Christmas period, doctors were keen to warn that grandparents planning to visit grandchildren were particularly at risk. This is because children are often referred to as “super-spreaders” of flu and the over-65s are one of the “at-risk” groups that can develop health complications, such as pneumonia, if they catch it. This latter point is exactly why Age UK London launched our “It’s Never Too Late!” campaign, which aims to help promote the flu vaccine across London. Older people in the capital are especially at risk – partly because our city is so busy – but mainly because flu vaccine uptake in the capital is worryingly low, with Greater London holding eighteen of the twenty Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) areas with the lowest flu vaccine uptake.
Unfortunately there are plenty of myths about the flu vaccine floating about which can put people off getting their flu jab. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the top ten facts about the flu to make sure you’re fully informed before you head to your GP or pharmacist.
Fact #1 – The flu more than just a bad cold
A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat. You are likely to spend 2 or 3 days in bed. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.
Fact #2 – You can’t catch the flu from the flu vaccine
The injected flu vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses that cannot transmit infection and so it cannot give you flu. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. Other reactions are very rare.
Fact #3 – Flu can not be treated with antibiotics
Viruses cause flu. Antibiotics only work against bacteria. A bacterial infection may occur because of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics to treat that infection, this will not protect against the flu.
Fact #4 – You need to get the flu jab every year
The viruses that cause flu change (mutate), so you need vaccination that matches the new viruses each year.
Fact #5 – You should still get the vaccine even if you have already had the flu
If you are in one of the “at risk” groups, you should still get the vaccine even if you’ve had the flu before. As flu is caused by several viruses, the immunity you naturally developed will only protect you against one of them. You could go on to catch another strain.
Fact #6 – Healthy people also need to be vaccinated
While it is especially important for people who have a long-term condition or chronic illness to get the flu jab, anyone can benefit from being vaccinated. In addition, it is free if you are 65 and over and as we age, our natural immunity weakens.
Fact #7 – Getting the flu jab isn’t the only way to protect yourself from the flu
Do not forget to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and try to avoid contact with people who have the flu.
Fact #8 – You can still spread the flu even if you are feeling well
20% to 30% of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms.
Fact #9 – You can’t starve the flu
If you have the flu (or a cold) and a fever, you need more fluids. You may have less of an appetite but you still need to try to eat what you can to give your body the best chance of fighting the flu.
Fact #10 – The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus.
You may have heard that you can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window. Flu season coincides with the cold weather, so people often associate the flu with a cold drafty environment. In fact, the only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus.
So now that you have the facts, you’re ready to head to your GP or pharmacist to get your flu jab! Remember, the flu vaccine is free for anyone who is:
- Over the age of 65
- Living in a residential or nursing home
- A carer of an older or disabled person
- A frontline care worker
- An NHS worker
- Living with a long term health condition
- Living with a weakened immune system
So don’t delay – get your flu jab today! If you’ve already been to get your vaccine then we’d love for you to spread the word by sharing these top ten facts!