If you’ve been keeping up to date with the news this winter you’ve probably heard a lot about the flu. I’ve just looked at the BBC News website and the top story is “UK in grip of worst flu season since 2011”. 2011 was the winter of the swine flu epidemic returning, when flu caused 602 deaths, and huge numbers of hospitalisations and critical care beds occupied.
This week’s hospitalisation rates for flu are four times what it was the year before (8 people hospitalised per 100,000 compared to 2/100,000) and it’s adding strain to an already stretched health system.
For most people, flu is a minor illness that gives you fevers, muscle aches and tiredness, but for the very old, very young or if you have some chronic health conditions, flu can be very serious and can kill, in extreme circumstances. It’s very easy to spread around and as it’s a virus, antibiotics don’t work on it. There’s two medications you can take, but they work best if you take them within 48 hours of symptoms starting. So really, we should aim to not catch it at all.
So, what does the NHS suggest to limit the spread of flu?
- Wash your hands frequently
- Stay away from people with the flu
- If you’ve got the flu, sneeze into a tissue and throw it away
- Get a flu jab
Some people are eligible for a free flu jab on the NHS, you just need to ask your GP or pharmacist. This includes if you’re pregnant, over 65, have a chronic condition (some of them include weakened immune systems or breathing problems), live in a long-stay residential home or are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person.
Two common myths about the flu jab are: they don’t work and they give you the flu.
This often pops up with people going.
“I HAD A FLU JAB AND TWO DAYS LATER I GOT THE FLU, I’M NEVER HAVING ONE AGAIN!”
Flu jabs are an inactivated (dead) version of the virus so can never give you the flu. What they do is stimulate your immune system to prepare it for meeting the flu, like practising for a race. The chills, sniffles, muscle aches you feel is your immune system working as it should, the bigger the ‘practice’, the better it can fight off real flu. However, it takes 10-14 days for your immune system to ‘practice’ so if you are exposed to the flu a few days after having the vaccine, it might not protect you. This is why the NHS advises to have the vaccine as early as possible.
Yes, the vaccine isn’t fool proof. Although it’s updated every year to combat a changing flu, the flu can keep changing. The vaccines are developed 6 months before flu season, so in May has to be a little bit of prediction as to what the flu will look like in November.
But our best estimates are that flu jabs prevent half the cases of flu each year, a surprisingly simple way to protect yourself and your family. What else is as easy as having a shot that can cut your risk of a potentially fatal disease in half?
It’s not too late to get one, talk to your pharmacist or book an appointment at your GP if you’re eligible. Some of the hundreds of thousands of myGP users will have received a special invitation to get a jab. If that’s you, then click the link to book a flu jab, no need to call the practice it’s all done digitally for you. Another way that myGP is helping you and the NHS this winter.
For more information on flu and vaccines: go to the NHS choices website.
By Fi Ozin