The season of colds and flu is almost upon us. Therefore it is a good time to think about having a flu jab.

This  year, nearly half the UK population – around 30 million people – will be offered the flu vaccine.

In fact, this will be the biggest winter vaccination campaign that the National Health Service has ever seen.

Getting the vaccine only takes a few minutes and helps to provide protection from flu for around a year.

Why is it important to get your vaccine early?

It is important to get vaccinated as early as possible and before the beginning of flu season.

This is because immunity takes a couple of weeks to build up.

This is particularly important when it comes to older people, since adults over the age of 65 are more likely to catch flu and develop complications from it. Flu complications lead to tens of thousands of hospital stays.

Additionally, older people also tend to have a slower immune system.

And for some at-risk groups, flu can be very dangerous.

About 1,700 deaths last year were linked to flu.

Who should be vaccinated?

The vaccine will be offered to 24 million people for free, this includes those over 65, sole carers and care workers.

You are entitled to a free flu vaccine if you are under 65 and have one of the following long-term conditions:

  • a heart problem
  • a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
  • 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)
  • diabetes
  • a neurological condition, e.g. multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or learning disability
  • a problem with your spleen, e.g. sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
  • are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above).

Where to get the vaccine?

However if you are not eligible for a free vaccine anyone can pay for one and it is a sensible jab to get.

You can get yours at GP practices.

Chemists including: Superdrug, Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy, Asda and Tesco. The private Winter Flu Jab Service costs around £11 – £12.99 depending on where you go.

When to get the vaccine?

It is important to get vaccinated as early as possible and before the beginning of flu season.

However Public Health England stress it is never too late to be vaccinated.

What is flu?

Flu is a highly infectious disease and symptoms usually appear very quickly. It causes fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness.

Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but it has the potential to be very serious, in some cases leading to people requiring admission to hospital, permanent disability and even fatality.

What causes flu?

Influenza viruses affecting your respiratory system cause flu, and unlike bacterial infections, viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics.  In some cases, however, antibiotics are prescribed if there are additional opportunist bacteria that cause complications and need treating.

What to do if you suspect you have flu?

There is no need to visit your GP if you are suffering from flu as there is nothing they can do to help you fight it. However, if you develop complications or are seriously worried please phone the surgery and get additional medical advice.

Treatment

The key advice to recover as quickly as possible is:

Rest and sleep

Keep warm

Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat aches and pains as well as lower your temperature.

Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydration (urine should be pale yellow or clear)

Pharmacists can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies that can help you to feel better.

How do you catch flu and can I avoid it?

Flu virus is spread liberally in tiny droplets of saliva released when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes. These droplets can then be inhaled by others or people are infected by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed. The virus can survive on surfaces for many hours.

Although, the best way to protect yourself against flu is by having a flu vaccination before flu season commences there are additional steps you can take to reduce you chances of getting flu.

In order to prevent the spread of the virus ensure that you cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.  Avoid touching your face in a public environment such as a bus or train, use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus while out and wash your hands regularly.

Hand hygiene

As well as getting vaccinated, hand hygiene can play a large role in keeping us well.

In fact, this is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA estimate in excess of one million deaths caused by infection and disease directly attributable to insufficient hand washing.

Handy habits

Use soap and water and wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Hot water is optional, and research shows it makes no different whether you wash with a normal soap or an antibacterial one. It is the friction from soaping up and washing off the suds under running water that is important for eradicating germs.

Wash between the fingers and around the thumbs.

Dry thoroughly

Damp hands attract germs. Make sure yours are dry. Opt for paper towels over communal cloth towels that can continue to harbour germs. An air dryer is the most hygienic option.

Protect your hands

Avoid cuts on your hands. Open cuts are a breeding ground for germs, but so is dry cracked skin. Look after your hands so they maintain a protective barrier against bugs.

Protect yourself

Use a paper towel to turn the tap on and off or to touch the door handle –health workers use this shortcut in hospitals to cut germ risk. If you are in a hospital or health environment – the long tap handles enable you to turn the taps on and off with your elbows!

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Repeat the hand washing every time you use the loo, touch your face, travel on public transport or before you eat.

Sanitiser saviour

If washing facilities aren’t available, use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol content. Carry a bottle at all times.

Avoid touching

Eyes, nose and mouth and three key access points for germs so keep your hands away from your face. A contaminated surface alone won’t give you the flu. The virus needs to pass a mucous membrane in order to do that. It is usually us putting our contaminated hands near our mouth or nose that then transmits the infection.

Trains, planes and automobiles

After travelling on public transport – wash your hands. Door handles, revolving doors, escalator handrails, push-front bins, arm rests in waiting areas – all carry lots of bugs. These bugs can remain active for many hours.

Germ hot spots to actively avoid

Magazines in doctors or dentists waiting areas, the communal pens on the chemist counters for signing prescriptions, ATM keypads, buttons on pedestrian crossings and lifts. Escalator rails, poles on tube trains and buses – wear gloves if possible, or use your hand sanitiser after touching these communal areas.

Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

It is strongly advised that you attend a fully regulated Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit https://firstaidforlife.org.uk or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.

First Aid for Life is a multi-award-winning, fully regulated first aid training provider. Our trainers are highly experienced medical, health and emergency services professionals who will tailor the training to your needs. Courses for groups or individuals at our venue or yours.

First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.