Flu occurs every year, usually in the winter, which is why it’s sometimes called seasonal flu. It’s a highly infectious disease with symptoms that come on very quickly.
The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. Healthy individuals usually recover within 2 to 7 days but, for some, the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.
Flu is unpredictable. The vaccine provides the best protection available against a virus that can cause severe illness. The most likely viruses that will cause flu are identified in advance of the flu season and vaccines are then made to match them as closely as possible.
The vaccines are given in the autumn ideally before flu starts circulating. During the last 10 years, the vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains.
People are being advised to get a flu jab to help protect against the “double danger” of flu and coronavirus. Research shows people can catch both diseases at the same time and that the combination of illnesses is more dangerous than having them one at a time.
The harm flu can do
People sometimes think a bad cold is flu, but having flu can often be much worse than a cold and you may need to stay in bed for a few days. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of flu. For them, it can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital, or even death.
Those at increased risk from the effects of flu
Flu can affect anyone, but if you have a long-term health condition, the effects of flu can make it worse even if the condition is well managed and you normally feel well. You should have the free flu vaccine if you are:
or have a long-term condition such as:
- a heart problem
- a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
- a kidney disease
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
- liver disease
- had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
- a neurological condition, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
- a learning disability
- a problem with your spleen, such as sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
- you are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)
People on the NHS Shielded Patient List for COVID-19 are all eligible for a free flu vaccine and it is really important this year that they receive it.
This list of conditions isn’t definitive. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.
The government want to reduce the chances of those vulnerable to COVID-19 from getting flu.