It’s that time of year again to stock up on the tissues, honey and lemons, as winter viruses do the rounds throughout schools and workplaces. Most of us can battle through the usual coughs and colds but, if you haven’t already thought about having the flu jab, is now the time?

We might joke about ‘man flu’, but anyone who’s ever had influenza knows it’s no laughing matter. A common virus spread by coughs and sneezes, flu’s symptoms - including a high temperature, aching limbs, a dry, chesty cough and headache - are more severe than those of a common cold and tend to last longer. And, while flu is, in most cases, harmless, it can lead to serious complications, meaning the vaccine is really not to be ‘sneezed’ at (sorry!).

What is the flu vaccine?

The flu jab is an injection that protects against several strains of flu by boosting your immune system and creating antibodies to fight off infection. It takes 10-14 days for the vaccine to take full effect, but you’ll be protected to a certain degree immediately.

It’s important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective so you might still get the flu - although, if you do, it’s likely to be a milder dose than otherwise and it shouldn’t last as long. And note that you’ll need a flu jab each year, due to the antibodies lessening over time and new strains of the illness emerging every year.

Is the flu jab free on the NHS?

The flu jab is free to people in certain categories, including those over 65, pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and bronchitis, carers and residents of long-stay care homes. Children aged two to three, as well as school pupils in reception to year four, are also offered the vaccine free on the NHS, as are children between six months and 17 with a long-term health condition. The vaccine is given to children in the form of a nasal spray rather than an injection.

Is it worth paying for the flu jab?

The flu jab is available for around £10 at pharmacies, including those in large supermarkets, and many people who don’t fall into the categories above think it well worth paying for to avoid having to take time off work or missing planned family activities around Christmas time. Many employers also offer it through their company health insurance scheme to prevent an outbreak of flu doing the rounds at work.

For more information, read the NHS guide to the flu jab and who should have it, or ask your employer if it’s included in your staff benefits. And have a look at our guide to staying healthy at work, to give you the best possible chance of fighting off those winter bugs if they do head your way!