Getting the flu is the actual worst. But before you end up spending Christmas in bed, with only Lemsip for company, have you thought about getting the flu jab? Yes, that's right - there's a nifty jab that will help keep you flu-free this winter - and it's not just for the elderly.
Sounds like a miracle, right? But can anyone have the flu jab? Are there any side effects? And, how do you actually go about getting it? We asked Dr Ellie Cannon , GP and author of Is Your Job Making You Ill?, for her top advice on all of the above - and much more.
What is the flu jab?
Quite simply, the flu jab involves getting a vaccine that protects you against common strains of influenza, or flu. "The flu vaccine contains either dead or a weakened form of the virus and so protects you against getting the flu," says Dr Cannon. "Having the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent getting flu and eligible people should have should have it every year."
How do I get it? Is the flu jab free?
Anyone can have the flu jab, but there are certain groups that can receive the flu vaccine for free as they are considered to be most at risk. These include those aged 65 and over, people with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, children aged 2 – 11 and health care workers. Luckily, anyone can pay to get the flu jab through their GP surgery, and some pharmacies offer it too. "If you’re pregnant then some midwifery services will administer the flu jab," adds Dr Cannon.
What are the side effects of the flu jab?
"One of the most common questions I'm asked is: "Will the flu vaccine give me the flu?" says Dr Cannon. "The answer is no, the flu vaccine cannot give people flu because it contains either a dead or weakened form of the virus. Those having the injected vaccine may get a sore arm at the site of the injection, a slight temperature and aching muscles for a day or two after the vaccination but these can all be managed by taking paracetamol." If you are worried about any side effects and want some advice, call or search NHS 111, or go and speak to your local pharmacist as a first port of call. The Help Us, Help You campaign also has the latest advice on where to go for help.
Is it okay to have the flu jab if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant?
You might be worried about the impact of the flu jab on your unborn baby, but Dr Cannon says there's no need for concern."If you are pregnant it is absolutely fine to get the jab - in fact pregnant women are advised to have the injectable flu vaccine, regardless of the stage of pregnancy. It reduces the risk of having a miscarriage, or your baby being born prematurely or with a low birthweight because of flu." The vaccine also reduces the chances of the mother-to-be getting complications of flu, such a pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. The vaccine will also give your baby some immunity to flu in the first few months of life.
Will the flu jab affect other medications?
It's fine to have the flu vaccine while on a course of antibiotics, advises Dr Cannon, "provided you're not ill with a high temperature. If you are taking medication and are unsure whether you should get the flu vaccine it is always best to put your mind at rest and check with your GP first."
How long does the flu vaccine last?
Dr Cannon recommends "getting the flu vaccine every winter", because the virus is always changing. "The vaccine is updated each year to protect against the most prevalent strains of the virus."
Will the jab stop me getting flu altogether, or is there a chance I might still catch it?
The flu vaccine is not 100% effective, but Dr Cannon says it is the "best defence we have" against what can be a serious illness. If you do feel ill this winter, whether you've had the flu jab or not, visit your local pharmacist, she advises.
Dr Ellie Cannon is a GP and author of Is Your Job Making You Ill?
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