The evenings are drawing in, there’s a definite chill in the air and GP surgeries are bracing for the winter germs to set in. Flu season is very nearly upon us - so how can you prepare and possibly even avoid it?
What is flu?
Flu is a common viral infection affecting the respiratory system. The symptoms can resemble that of a cold but the patient will feel far worse, often struggling to get out of bed or manage even simple tasks. Symptoms include a temperature of 38C or above, aches all over your body, a feeling of exhaustion, a cough, sore throat and headache and sometimes sickness and diarrhoea.
Flu can be prevented by having a vaccine ahead of winter. Each year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies the strains of flu most likely to break out, with health services then including those strains in the inoculation. The vaccine isn’t foolproof as you might catch another strain of the virus, but it does greatly reduce your risk of getting the flu.
Am I eligible for a free flu vaccine?
This year, about half the UK’s population - around 30m people - are being offered the flu vaccine in the biggest winter vaccination campaign the NHS has seen. The vaccine is usually administered at GP surgeries. People over the age of 65, pregnant women and patients with existing illnesses are routinely offered the vaccine free of charge while, for the first time, all primary school pupils can also have the vaccination free.
Many workers are also offered a flu jab free in the workplace, through staff wellbeing schemes and employee assistance programmes (EAPs). These are provided by forward-thinking companies as part of a package of benefits that help attract and retain the right staff. For example, our partner Bupa helps businesses offer flu vaccination programmes to protect their workforce against the spread of flu during the winter months.
Depending on the company you work for and the type of health scheme you belong to, either a trained nurse will visit your work site to administer the vaccine or vouchers are available, enabling employees to visit a pharmacy for the jab. Many EAPs also include access to health helplines, where advisors can answer flu questions and offer post-vaccination advice.
If you don’t fall into these categories, you can visit your local pharmacy and ask for the flu vaccine, which usually costs around £10. Some pharmacies offer drop-in appointments but, during busy periods, you may have to book. You will be asked some routine health questions and might be asked to go back on a different day if you’ve been feeling under the weather in the last few days.
Complications of flu
Most people experiencing flu will not need to see their GP but should instead stay indoors, keep warm and drink lots of fluid. Paracetamol and ibuprofen can help ease aching limbs and reduce fever. For most people, at the very worst you might need to take a week or longer off work, which can in itself be difficult financially for the self-employed or the millions of workers not eligible for sick pay.
In some cases, the flu can lead to complications and more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis. If you take a turn for the worse, speak to your GP as you might need further medication.
Sometimes, sepsis can be mistaken for flu. Sepsis is a potentially deadly reaction to an infection in which your immune system attacks your body’s tissues and organs. Don’t mistake the signs of sepsis for flu - read up on sepsis and what to look out for here.
Will Brexit affect the flu vaccine?
The government has told the BBC it is confident that a possible no-deal Brexit will not affect the flu campaign. Manufacturers have been asked to ensure all supplies reach the UK by the October 31 deadline, whereas deliveries would usually continue into November and December. One supplier has indicated this deadline will be missed and that one million flu vaccines, for people with long-term conditions, will not be shipped until November.