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Should You Have the Flu Jab?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

Many people confuse flu with cold as the symptoms are quite similar. Flu and cold however, are two totally different conditions. Flu is an infectious illness caused by the influenza virus that makes us feel weak, achy and tired. It gives fever, cough, sore throat and congestion. It is a highly infective, sometimes a life-threatening illness.

Cold, on the other hand, is usually caused not by just one, but a number of viruses like rhinoviruses (30-50%) and coronaviruses (10-15%). Cold slows us down, but it doesn’t give a cough and fever.

Although the flu is potentially dangerous to everyone, people over the age of 65 with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, liver or kidney disease, and those with a weakened immune system are particularly vulnerable to flu complication. Death from the flu is much more common among people with heart disease than those with any other chronic condition.

If you haven’t got your flu jab this season, read about the benefits and consider making an appointment with your GP to discuss it further.

Does the flu jab actually work? The flu jab does work, and it helps you prevent getting the flu in the first instance. Here is what research says:

1. FLU JAB LOWERS THE RISK OF A HEART ATTACK There is evidence that the flu jab can reduce the risk of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other major cardiac events including death by about a third over the following year. A large study carried out at the University of Lincoln on 79,000 patients has shown that having an annual flu jab may reduce the risk of a heart attack by 19% probably due to preventing chest infections.

2. FLU JAB LOWERS THE RISK OF FLU-RELATED COMPLICATIONS Flu causes dehydration and worsens pre-existing chronic conditions, like a coronary heart disease, heart failure, diabetes or asthma. Getting the flu jab reduces the risk of flu-related complications. For example, if you have a heart disease, you are at increased risk of complications from flu including pneumonia and respiratory failure.

3. FLU JAB MAKES THE FLU LESS SEVERE It’s important to mention that even if you are vaccinated you can still get the flu. The level of protection may differ from person to person, so there is no a 100% guarantee that you will be flu-free. However, if you still get the flu after your vaccination, it is likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would have been otherwise. Good hygiene is a must so wash your hands regularly, stay at home when you are unwell, don’t sneeze or cough on others and protect yourself when you are around symptomatic people.

4. FLU JAB LOWERS THE NUMBER OF HOSPITALISATIONS A recently conducted study has shown that children who got the flu jab had a 74% lower risk of being admitted to hospital during flu season. In another study researchers have found that getting the vaccine was associated with a 71% reduction in adult flu-related hospital admissions particularly in people over the age of 50 (77% reduction), people with diabetes (79%) and people with chronic lung disease (52%).

Is it safe to have the flu jab? Research has shown consistently that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential harm. Some people may think that the flu vaccine may give you the flu. No, it can’t. The flu jab uses dead virus so it can’t cause the flu.

What are the side effects? If you have ever thought that the flu jab gave you the flu, you may have experienced the side effects of the vaccine. Some people may feel arms soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever (37 - 38 C) or muscle aches. These symptoms are side effects, not the flu, and they usually go away within a day or two.

Is the flu jab right for everyone? No, it isn’t right for everyone. Some people shouldn’t get the flu jab. If you are allergic to chicken eggs or if you had a serious allergic reaction to the flu jab in the past or if you suffer from a rare condition called a Guillain-Barre syndrome or if you are sick with a fever at the time you plan to get the flu jab, you shouldn't be vaccinated and you need to discuss the possibility of getting the vaccine with your doctor.

When do I need to get the flu jab? The flu season usually begins in September, so the best time to get the flu jab is from late September to November. The sooner you get vaccinated, the better the results.

Is the flu jab every year the same? The flu vaccine changes from year to year. Over time, the protection gradually decreases, so new flu vaccines are produced each year to match viruses as precisely as possible. The flu jabs are recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Where do I get my flu jab from? The flu jab is available through your local GP. It's best that you make an appointment in advance to make sure that the vaccine is available.

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