- What is flu?
- What are the symptoms of flu?
- Who is at greatest risk from flu?
- Why should I be vaccinated?
- Where can I get vaccinated?
- When can I get vaccinated?
- How often do I need to be vaccinated?
- Am I eligible for a free vaccination?
- Will a flu vaccination give me flu?
- How does a flu vaccination work?
- How are flu vaccines produced?
What is flu?
Flu is a common, infectious, viral illness. You generally start to feel ill within a few days of being infected1. Most people will begin to recover within a week, but it can be very unpleasant, and you may feel so unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better2.
What’s the difference between cold and flu?
Some people think of flu as just a bad cold, but it is different3. It can be much more serious and in some cases may even lead to death4. It is estimated that around 10,000 people in the UK may die from flu annually5.
How long is flu contagious?
If you contract the flu virus, you can infect other people before you have any symptoms or start to feel ill1. This is important as it means you may infect other people before you even know you have the flu. You may even not show any symptoms at all – but still be contagious.
You can also pass on the virus up to 5 and 7 days after you become unwell1. Children may stay contagious for longer than 7 days1.
How is flu spread?
Flu is spread from person to person. Most experts believe it is spread through droplets, which are expelled when a person coughs, sneezes or even talks1. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people up to 6 feet away1 and be inhaled into the lungs. Or, less often, droplets may land on surfaces such as door handles, dishes, bed linen etc. and then be transferred to a person who touches these, then touches their own nose or mouth1.
Preventing the spread of flu
Practice good hygiene measures to help stop yourself catching flu or spreading it to others.
Always wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, as well as:
- regularly cleaning surfaces such as your computer keyboard, telephone and door handles to get rid of germs
- using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- putting used tissues in a bin as soon as possible
- avoiding unnecessary contact with other people while you’re infectious
You should stay off work or school until you’re feeling better1.
How can I avoid catching flu?
Vaccination remains the most effective to help protect people from flu6. Many people are eligible for a free vaccination on the NHS (such as those at high risk with other health conditions, children in certain age groups, pregnant women, adults aged 65 and over or carers)7.
You can get your free NHS flu vaccination* at your GP surgery or in a pharmacy, while most pharmacies in the UK also offer private jabs.
*Free NHS jabs are available only to those who fall within the current risk categories.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Flu Spreads. October 2017. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm (accessed July 2018)
- NHS Choices. Flu. December 2017. Available online: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Flu/Pages/Symptoms.aspx (accessed July 2018)
- NHS Choices. Common cold. December 2017. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/ (accessed July 2018)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. October 2017. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm (accessed July 2018)
- Public Health England. Immunisation against infectious disease: the green book. Chapter 19: Influenza, August 2018. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_
(accessed September 2018)
- World Health Organization. Influenza (Seasonal) Fact Sheet, January 2018. Available online: http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal) (accessed July 2018)
- NHS Choices. Who should have the flu vaccine. July 2016. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/who-should-have-flu-vaccine/ (accessed August 2018)