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Should I get the flu jab this winter?

As the winter months draw in, you’ll likely see more advertisements mentioning the flu jab. Every year, the NHS offers free flu jabs to certain parts of the population who are considered more ‘at risk’ of developing serious symptoms if they catch the virus to give them the best level of protection during highly contagious months. But who should get the free NHS flu jab this winter? And what will getting the jab do for you?

What is the flu?

The flu or ‘influenza’ is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, including the lungs, nose and throat. Influenza is a virus and is highly infectious, meaning it can be spread easily among a lot of people. Though everyone is at risk of catching it during the winter months, some parts of the population are at greater risk of developing serious symptoms if they catch the virus, which can cause significant health problems.

It shouldn’t be confused with the stomach flu, whose common symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea and is usually transmitted via improperly cooked food or dirty water.

The most common symptoms of the flu are:

  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Dry Cough

What causes the flu?

Flu is caused by Influenza A, B and C viruses circulating among the population. It’s spread amongst people via droplets from coughs and sneezes and generally tends to resurge when we spend more time indoors amongst other people and when it gets colder. The virus can also enter your body if you touch something with droplets on it or kiss other people.

Because influenza is a virus, it can’t be treated with ordinary antibiotics and only the symptoms can be treated. However, because influenza attacks the respiratory system, it can cause other serious health problems if the body isn’t protected. Therefore, flu jabs are offered every year – generally during the winter months when the spread is highest – to help the body protect itself against nasty germs.

The vaccines are designed to protect against all three influenza viruses that spread commonly amongst humans. It won’t stop you from picking up the virus, but it will teach your body how to respond to its cells and destroy them more effectively.

Who should consider getting a flu jab?

The flu jab, like most common vaccinations, is not 100% effective, but has a high level of efficacy that will help your body fight the virus should you get sick. The NHS offers free flu jabs to certain people every winter to ensure their best protected during the season. This group includes:

  • People over 50
  • Pregnant people
  • People with some pre-existing health conditions
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • Workers and residents in residential care or nursing homes
  • Carers for the elderly
  • Immunocompromised or low-immunity individuals
  • Some children with parents, siblings and relatives at risk

Free flu jabs are only being offered to these groups, but you can also book private jabs if you feel you need to get one and don’t qualify.

How can you protect yourself from the flu?

There are lots of ways you can protect yourself from the flu. Getting your flu jab is just the first frontier and is a very effective way to keep your body prepared to tackle the virus should you get it. Basic habits you can incorporate to protect yourself from the flu include:

  • Washing your hands regularly and using hand sanitiser
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands
  • Use tissues when coughing or sneezing and immediately throw them away
  • Keep common surface areas clean by regularly disinfecting them, like your phone, kitchen worktops, keyboards, door handles and remotes
  • Avoid close contact with people who have the flu or have flu-like symptoms
  • Wear a mask in enclosed public spaces
  • Stay home when you’re sick and try to reduce contact with others around you

On top of this, maintaining other healthy habits like getting plenty of sleep, eating a diet high in fresh vitamins and minerals and lowering levels of stress will also give your body the best chance it has of fighting the flu should you catch it.

People at an increased risk of developing serious symptoms, who are immunocompromised or may have a harder time overcoming the flu should book their flu jab to ensure the best protection against the virus during the winter. It’s one of many – and one of the most effective – ways you can protect yourself during cold and flu season.

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