With winter right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about the flu season, getting the vaccine and how you can better protect yourself and others against flu this year.
Flu is caused by influenza viruses that infect the windpipe and lungs. As it is caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t protect you from flu or treat it. According to the World Health Organisation, getting a flu vaccine is the simplest, safest and most effective way of protecting yourself against the flu even before you come on contact with it. The NHS advises you to get the flu vaccine in the autumn or early winter before the flu starts spreading, as it takes 10 to 14 days for the flu vaccine to work.
This year, it is especially important to get the flu vaccine as more people are likely to get flu as, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people will have built up a natural immunity to it. Research have also shown that if you get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, you are more likely to become seriously ill.
The NHS recommends everyone to have the flu vaccine, and will give it for free to people who are frontline health or social care workers, 50 years old and over, are pregnant or have certain health conditions, are in long-stay residential care, live with someone who is more likely to get infections or receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick.
You can have the flu vaccine at your GP surgery, at your midwifery service if you are pregnant, at the hospital or at a pharmacy offering the service. Once you’ve had the flu vaccine, the jab uses your body’s natural defences to build up a resistance to the flu and makes your immune system stronger by creating antibodies. There is still a chance that you may get the flu even after getting the flu jab, but it is likely to me milder and not last as long.
It is very important to remember that in the UK, not any of the flu vaccines offered contain any live viruses, so they cannot cause the flu or put you at risk of its complications. The flu vaccine is completely safe for most people and usually only cause very minor and temporary side effects, such as a sore arm, muscle aches or a mild fever.
Any licensed vaccine, like the flu jab, is rigorously tested across multiple phases of trials before it is approved for use, and regularly reassessed once it is introduced. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause health risks.
Concerning the link between vaccine and autism, the World Health Organisation states very clearly that there is no evidence of any link between vaccines and autism or autistic disorders. This has been demonstrated in many studies, conducted across very large populations.
The 1998 study which raised concerns about a possible link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was later found to be seriously flawed and fraudulent. The paper was subsequently retracted by the journal that published it, and the doctor that published it lost his medical license. Unfortunately, its publication created fear that led to dropping immunization rates in some countries, and subsequent outbreaks of diseases.
If you would like more information on the flu vaccine, please visit the following resources:
- NHS guide to flu vaccines
- GOV.UK guide to flu vaccination: who should have it this winter and why
- GOV.UK flu vaccination easy read guide
- British Sign Language (BSL) video about the flu vaccination
Along with getting the flu vaccine, there are also several easy healthy habits that you can follow to help prevent getting the flu or spreading it to other people.
- Avoid close contact.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
- Clean your hands.
Washing your hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds will help protect you from viruses that could cause the flu. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Viruses and bacteria can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Practice other good health habits.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home or at work, such as doorknobs, handles, phones and wallets, especially when someone is ill. Getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing your stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food will also better protect you from the flu, or minimise its effects on you.