Influenza, more commonly known as flu, is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus. Flu outbreaks often occur during the winter each year, which is why the illness is sometimes referred to as seasonal flu. The virus spreads rapidly through small, contaminated droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. Unlike a cold, the symptoms of flu come on very quickly and include a fever and aching joints and muscles. Although flu can be unpleasant, if you are otherwise healthy, the illness will usually clear up on its own and you will recover within a week. However, the effects of flu can be more severe in certain groups, such as older people, pregnant women and people with an underlying health condition (particularly chronic heart or respiratory disease), or those with weakened immune systems. Therefore, to protect against the potentially harmful effects of flu, it is recommended that these at-risk groups are vaccinated each year with the flu vaccine.
You are eligible to receive a free flu vaccine if you:
· are 65 years of age or over (including those who will be 65 by March 31 2013)
· are pregnant (including women who become pregnant during the flu season)
· have a certain medical condition (see below)
· are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility
· are in receipt of a carer's allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
People with medical conditions
The flu vaccine is offered free to anyone over the age of six months if they have any of the following medical conditions:
· 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, such as hepatitis
· chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or motor neurone disease
· problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease, or if you have had your spleen removed
· a weakened immune system due to conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or as a result of having treatment that suppresses the immune system, such as chemotherapy
If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system, you may also be advised to have a flu vaccine. Speak to your GP about this.
It is recommended that all pregnant women should have the flu vaccine..
It is safe to have the flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy from conception onwards. There is strong evidence to suggest that pregnant women have an increased risk of developing complications if they get flu, particularly from the H1N1 strain.
If you are pregnant, you will benefit from the flu vaccine because it:
· reduces your risk of developing serious complications, such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy
· reduces your risk of having a miscarriage or your baby being born too soon or with a low birthweight, due to flu
· will help protect your baby because they will continue to have some immunity to flu for the first few months of their life
Talk to your GP or midwife if you are unsure about the vaccination.