Influenza is a contagious disease caused by a virus – myxovirus influenzae. Often considered as a benign respiratory disease, the flu can trigger severe complications from pre-existing illness.
It is possible to reduce the risk of contracting flu through vaccination. Many countries all over the world, including the UK, recommend vaccination during the flu season.
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. Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold.
The most common symptoms of flu are:
- Pains in the joints and muscles
- Extreme tiredness.
Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.
Am I at increased risk from the effects of flu?
In the main you should have the free flu vaccine if you are:
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, eg multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or learning disability
- a problem with your spleen, eg sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
- are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)
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.
I am pregnant. Do I need a flu vaccination this year?
Yes. All pregnant women should have the flu vaccine to protect themselves and their babies. The flu vaccine can be given safely at any stage of pregnancy, from conception onwards.
Does the nasal vaccine contain gelatine derived from pigs (porcine gelatine)?
Yes. The nasal vaccine contains a highly processed form of gelatine (porcine gelatine), which is used in a range of many essential medicines. The gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable so that the vaccine provides the best protection against flu.
Can’t my child have the injected vaccine that doesn’t contain gelatine?
The nasal vaccine provides good protection against flu, particularly in young children. It also reduces the risk to, for example, a baby brother or sister who is too young to be vaccinated, as well as other family members (for example, grandparents) who may be more vulnerable to the complications of flu.
The injected vaccine is not being offered to healthy children as part of this programme. However, if your child is at high risk from flu due to one or more medical conditions or treatments and can’t have the nasal flu vaccine they should have the flu vaccine by injection.
Some faith groups accept the use of porcine gelatine in medical products – the decision is, of course, up to you. For further information about porcine gelatine and the nasal flu vaccine, see nhs.uk/child-flu-FAQ
Will I get any side effects?
Side effects of the nasal vaccine may commonly include:
- a runny or blocked nose
- some loss of appetite.
Those having the injected vaccine may get a sore arm at the site of the injection, a low grade fever and aching muscles for a day or two after the vaccination. Serious side effects with either vaccine are uncommon.
Will the flu vaccine protect me completely?
Because the flu virus can change from year to year there is always a risk that the vaccine does not match the circulating virus. During the last ten years the vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains.
How long will I be protected for?
The vaccine should provide protection throughout the 2019/20 flu season.
What do I need to do now?
If you belong to one of the groups mentioned in this leaflet, it’s important that you have your flu vaccination.