‘Tis the season…… to get the flu!!

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Flu season runs from October to May, with most cases happening from late December to early March. If you have already been vaccinated your body will have been given a good chance to build up immunity to (protection from) the virus.


Even though it’s best to get vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine is available, getting the vaccine later can still be helpful. Even as late as January, there are still a few months left in the flu season, so it’s still a good idea to get protected.


Most of the time I try and cover up to date current health issues and different things for each newsletter, but some things are worth repeating and this is one of them! So briefly – influenza, or ‘flu’ is the illness caused by the influenza virus and the symptoms are a high temperature, cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache and muscular pain. Some versions of the flu virus also cause vomiting.
If you’re not sure whether you have flu or a cold, one humorous way of deciding is the infamous fifty pound note test – if someone offers you fifty pounds and all you have to do to receive it is get out of bed and walk to your front door, if you get up and do it then it’s not flu. This is not 100% accurate and we do occasionally see people with flu who have managed to get not just out of bed but all the way to the surgery. But that’s pretty rare as flu really does make you feel dreadful.
The flu vaccine prevents almost all cases of flu but no other illnesses. So if you have it then there is a small chance that you may still get flu although it is very unlikely. If you do end up being one of the unfortunate few, your illness is likely to be a lot less severe than if you had not had the vaccine. And there are lots of other cough/cold type conditions that look and feel a lot like flu but are something else – the vaccine does not prevent those either. So if you hear someone complaining that they had flu despite having the vaccine it is most likely that they just had something similar but not actual flu.
So who should have the vaccine? This year the people for who it is recommended are:

People aged 65 years or over (including those becoming age 65 years by 31 March 2016)
People aged from six months to less than 65 years of age with a serious medical condition such as:
• chronic (long-term) respiratory disease, such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis
• chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
• chronic kidney disease
• chronic liver disease
• chronic neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease or motor neurone disease, or learning disability
• diabetes
• splenic dysfunction
• a weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS) or treatment (such as cancer treatment)
• all pregnant women (including those women who become pregnant during the flu season)
• all those aged two, three, and four years (but not five years or older) on 31 August 2015 (i.e. date of birth on or after 1 September 2010 and on or before 31 August 2013) through general practice1
• all children of school years 1 and 2 age through locally commissioned arrangements2
• primary school-aged children in areas that participated in primary school pilots in 2014/15
• people living in long-stay residential care homes or other long-stay care facilities where rapid spread is likely to follow introduction of infection and cause high morbidity and mortality. This does not include, for instance, prisons, young offender institutions, or university halls of residence
• people who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer of an older or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill
• consideration should also be given to the vaccination of household contacts of immuno-compromised individuals, specifically individuals who expect to share living accommodation on most days over the winter and, therefore, for whom continuing close contact is unavoidable


GP surgeries all have their own way of offering the flu vaccine; most will run ‘flu clinics’ on specific days but they will usually be happy to give it to you if you happen to be there for some other reason. Surgeries will be planning this now so the receptionists at your surgery should be able to tell you how to get your vaccination by now.
If you do find yourself with flu symptoms, sadly there is no cure so it is generally advised to drink plenty, take paracetamol and/or ibuprofen, keep warm and brace yourself for a few days of misery in the knowledge that it will be over soon; flu does not usually last more than that. If you are worried that you may need to see your GP it is best to ring the surgery and ask them what their policy is. Many surgeries will advise you to stay at home to avoid you spreading the virus in the waiting room (and you’ll probably feel too ill to do that anyway!) but in some specific situations they may still want to see you and arrange for you to stay in a separate room so that you do not have contact with anyone else while you are there.
So if you are someone for who the flu vaccine is recommended, please get in touch with your GP and find out how you can still get yours – having needles stuck in you is not high on most people’s list of fun things to do, but it may well save you a lot of misery this winter!

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