Preparing for flu season

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The days are getting shorter, the weather’s getting colder and, yep, we’re all sniffling and snotting all over the place. Winter has arrived, bringing all sorts of nasty bugs with it.

One of the biggest worries over winter is flu.

So what is flu?

Flu – actual, proper influenza, not the bad cold your mad aunt insists on calling flu – is a common viral infection which is spread through coughs and sneezes. It’s about all year, but it’s more present in the wintertime. It’s different from the common cold, and the main symptoms include a high temperature, tiredness and weakness, headaches, general aches and pains and a dry, chesty cough.

There’s no cure, and most people have to rest (that means stay in bed) until they feel better – it’s not like a cold where you can generally muddle through. It can be really nasty – and in some cases, it can be fatal.

How do I avoid it?

You can get vaccinated! Certain people – those who are most at risk of catching flu – are entitled to a free flu jab on the NHS, which reduces your risk of catching the virus. Now is the time to get vaccinated – and these people are entitle to the free jab:

  • Anyone aged 65 or over
  • Pregnant women
  • Children and adults with underlying health conditions (like asthma, breathing problems, heart conditions)
  • Children and adults with weakened immune systems

If you fit the bill, your GP will be able to administer the vaccine – they usually run drop-in clinics in the autumn, so give your doctor a call and see what to do.

Does the jab actually work?

The flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective, so there is still a chance you could catch it, but if you do it’s likely to be milder.

Each year, the flu jab is different as different strains of the virus are active. This year, you’ll be protected against:

  • A/H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009
  • A/H3N2 – a strain of flu that can infect birds and mammals and was active in 2011
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013
What if I’m not eligible for a free jab?

If you aren’t eligible for the vaccine on the NHS, you can still pay to get vaccinated at your local pharmacy – this usually costs in the region of £10 – if you’re concerned about catching it.

You can also take precautions to prevent the spread of nasty winter bugs and decrease your chances of catching anything grim in the colder months. All your usual basic hygiene applies – wiping down keyboards, phones and door handles, covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or coughing into your elbow and binning used tissues ASAP are all common sense steps that’ll prevent any nastiness spreading.

If you think you’ve got a cold or flu, it’s best to stay off school, college, uni or work until your symptoms are gone for the sakes of your classmates and co-workers.

What if I catch flu?

If you get flu, you’ll definitely know about it, and the best advice is to rest up, drink plenty of fluids and take painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen to alleviate the symptoms – and wait it out until the symptoms pass.

Find out more about seasonal flu at www.nhs24.com/flu

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