What is the flu vaccine, and should you get it?
With news outlets warning about a 'deadly flu' virus coming to the UK, more and more people are asking about flu jabs.
Often considered to be given to children and the elderly, anyone can get themselves vaccinated.
So, what's the deal?
FIRST THINGS FIRST? WHAT'S THE FLU?
If you don’t know what it feels like to have the flu, then you probably haven’t had it because trust us – you’ll when it hits you. It’s a nasty viral infection that basically makes you incapable of getting out of bed (and not in the Monday-morning-don’t-feel-like-going-to-work sort of way).
The flu is highly infectious and passes from person to person by contact with respiratory droplets (in other words, when you're near someone with the flue who sneezes or when you touch something with the virus on it – yep, gross.)
Symptoms usually peak after two or three days and include sudden fever above 38°C, dry cough, headache, tiredness, chills, aching muscles, joint pains, diarrhoea, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. In other words, not pleasant.
WILL THE FLU JAB STOP YOU GETTING THE FLU?
Well, not necessarily. In 2013, the flu vaccine's effectiveness was 62% in the US. Another study showed that in the 2011-2012 flu season the jab was associated with a 71% reduction in flu-related hospitalisations in adults of all ages and a 77% reduction in those 50 years and above.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
It means that flu vaccinations are never going to be 100% effective BUT you’re more likely to avoid the flu if you have the jab then if you don’t.
SO HOW DOES THE JAB WORK?
Each year the viruses that are most likely to cause the flu are identified in advanced by the clever people at the World Health Organization. Based on their recommendations, vaccine manufacturers then produce flu vaccines containing strains of the viruses. But don’t worry, according to Dr Rashid Bani at Pall Mall Medical the viruses are killed and deactivated before being made into the vaccine. “The aim of the vaccine is to stimulate your body's immune system to product antibodies to the flu viruses. Your body is then prepared to attack the virus should you catch it,” he explains.
SHOULD I HAVE IT?
The flu jab is recommended to everyone over the age of 6 months, says Deepa Songara, Boots UK Flu Pharmacist. Dr Bani adds that while most healthy people will recover from the flu in about a week, certain groups of people are more at risk of developing serious complications of flu like bronchitis and pneumonia. These include: children under the age of five, people over 65, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.
WHO SHOULDN'T TAKE IT?
Flu vaccines shouldn't be used if you have severe allergy or sensitivity to egg, egg products, neomycin or polymyxin, says Dr Mehdi Fard from Pall Mall Medical. People with elevated body temperature (fever), acute respiratory or other active infections or illnesses and poor immune systems should speak with their doctor before receiving the vaccine.
ANY SIDE EFFECTS?
According to Songara, the most common side effect is soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site.
BUT I'VE HEARD…
The flu jab gets a bad rep. Here are some common flu vaccine fears that you don't need to worry about:
Myth #1: “I got the flu jab last year so I don't need to take it again.”
Fact: Strains of the flu are always changing and so the vaccine changes every year too. Immunity will also fade; the vaccines aren't made of Superman's blood.
Myth #2: “Dying from the flu is so exaggerated, as if that happens…”
Fact: Flus can be really severe and it's common for people to be treated at the hospital if they burn up. In 2006-2007 alone, 20,000 people died from the flu.
Myth #3: “The flu jab has ingredients that are dangerous to our health.”
Fact: Flu jabs will only be very dangerous to your health if you're allergic to some of the ingredients in it. If you're worried, consult your doctor about the ingredients before taking it.
Myth #4: “Pregnant women shouldn't have the flu vaccine.”
Fact: If a pregnant woman has the flu and it becomes extremely severe, it could cause her to have a miscarriage. The vaccination will prevent mums-to-be from getting the flu and lower the risk.
Myth #5: “The flu is basically just a really bad cold.”
Fact: See the top of this article. The flu is much worse than a cold; the symptoms are bad and can become really severe to the point of hospitalisation.
- The life cycle of a cold
- How to get through norovirus season