Having the flu is a horrible experience for anyone unfortunate enough to catch it, but for some people it can be life-threatening.
In the run up to each winter people who are considered to be at risk from becoming seriously ill if they get the flu are encouraged to protect themselves by getting a free flu jab at their GP surgery. However earlier this month it was reported that many of those people in ‘at risk’ groups haven’t had the jab yet.
Because it’s a virus it can’t be treated with antibiotics and like most contagious illnesses the chances of contracting it are much greater in the winter. So it really is a matter of prevention being better than cure.
We asked NHS Norfolk to give us the lowdown on the flu jab and why it’s so important for some people to have it.
People don’t realise quite how serious flu can be – it’s not like a cold, it’s highly contagious and anyone can catch it. It can knock you off your feet and can increase the risk of developing dangerous illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
In the most serious cases, seasonal flu might land you in hospital – it can even be a killer. The Department of Health estimates that around 4,700 people in England die every year after getting flu, and people in ‘at risk’ groups are 11 times more likely to die than someone who is not in an ‘at risk’ group.
So who is considered at risk of becoming seriously ill as a result of catching the flu? If you’re pregnant or aged over 65 you’re in an ‘at risk’ group and are eligible to get the jab for free. Also people with lowered immunity or a long term health condition should have the jab. If you have any of the following conditions you should contact your GP about getting vaccinated:
- a serious heart complaint
- a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema
- serious kidney disease
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancer treatment
- if you have a problem with your spleen or you have had your spleen removed
- if you have ever had a stroke.
The flu vaccine changes every year to fight the latest strains of flu, so even if you had a jab last winter you need another one this year to stay flu safe.
If you’re in any of the at-risk groups, the flu jab is completely free and is a safe way of protecting you and your family in a matter of minutes.
The flu season has already started so, if you’re in an at risk group, we really would urge you to get vaccinated soon. It’s simple to arrange too – just contact your GP to make a convenient appointment and get your jab. It’s quick and safe, and will never cause a bout of flu as it doesn’t contain live viruses.
For more information, speak to your local pharmacist, the nurse at your local surgery or GP, or visit www.nhs.uk/flu.
If you’re not eligible for a free flu vaccination, it is possible to pay privately for a flu jab, which is available from some pharmacies and GPs. If you’ve had a reaction to a previous vaccination then it should be avoided, or postponed if you have a high temperature.
If you’re not registered with a GP, or need to re-register after moving house, you can find GP surgeries that are nearest to you here.
If you’d rather not pay for a jab, the NHS have some advice on the best ways of avoiding flu without locking yourself away all winter.
If you’re feeling unwell and are worried that you might have the flu, get an online diagnosis here.