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It is Jab Time!

By Jeanne Hambleton

this article should be read in conjunction with the Healthy Note article

It is that time again. Make your appointment with your doctor or your pharmacist and get your flu jab, as it takes two weeks to become active ready to fight the flu.

The injected flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS annually to adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone aged 65 and over), pregnant women, and children aged six months to two years at risk of flu. Adults and children with weakened immune systems are also vulnerable.

With the help of the NHS, Jennifer Berry of the Knowledge Centre, and Christopher Nordqvist, University of Illinois-Chicago, School of Medicine, I am sharing these words of wisdom on the pros and cons of having flu jab – book now. .

Last year and every year I have a flu jab. Last January I had flu twice but I am still here to tell the tale. So go for it….

The flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms of the flu include fever, coughing, body aches, headache, and tiredness that last up to 2 weeks.

Flu is highly contagious and is usually spread by the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. You can also catch flu by touching an infected person (e.g. shaking hands). Adults are contagious 1-2 days before getting symptoms and up to 7 days after becoming ill. 

This means that you can spread the influenza virus before you even know you are infected. Antibiotics cannot be used to treat flu. Experts agree that the best way to prevent flu is to get vaccinated each year

It is common to confuse flu with a bad cold. Flu and cold symptoms may include a runny/blocked nose, sore throat, and cough.  But beware of heavy cold symptoms, high temperature, cold sweats, shivers, headache, aching joints and limbs, fatigue, feeling exhausted, gastro-intestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (much more common among children than adults). These symptoms may linger for about a week but the feeling of tiredness and gloom can continue for several weeks.

In the majority of cases, flu is not serious - it is just unpleasant. For some people, however, there can be severe complications. This is more likely in very young children, in the elderly, and for individuals with other longstanding illness that can undermine their immune system.  Those with fibromyalgia often suffer with a compromised immune system.

The risk of experiencing severe flu complications is higher for certain people: over 65s, babies or young children, pregnant women, folks with heart or cardiovascular disease, chest problems, such as asthma or bronchitis, and those with kidney disease. People with diabetes, taking steroids, undergoing treatment for cancer, or those with long standing diseases that reduce immune system function.

Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weak immune systems may be more likely to suffer serious complications.

Proper hand washing and staying home when sick can help prevent the flu. But health experts say that for the best protection, most people should also get an influenza vaccine, or flu shot, every year. The flu shot helps the body's immune system fight off the flu before a person gets sick.

The body stores antibodies and can use them to fight off a future flu infection. As a result, a person who gets the shot may be able to avoid the flu completely, or only get a mild case. The effectiveness of the flu shot can vary widely from year to year and depending on the health and age of the person getting the shot and if the shot matches the current flu strains.

Matching the shot to the flu

Every year, new strains of the flu spread around the globe. There are hundreds of different strains, but flu shot manufacturers can only include 3 or 4 types in the shot each year. Medical experts must narrow it down to the strains that are most likely to make people sick. A few months before flu season arrives, researchers study the flu strains that were most common the year before. They also look at strains that are spreading in other parts of the world. They use this data to predict which strains of flu will affect people during the coming flu season.

Sometimes, experts can accurately predict which strains of flu will spread, and the shot is considered a good "match."

Although side effects are usually very mild, the flu shot can cause pain, redness, or swelling where the shot was given. A few people may also experience body aches or a low fever.

In rare cases, the flu shot can cause a bad allergic reaction with hives. When this happens, it usually occurs within minutes or hours after the shot is given. You may require emergency treatment if you are wheezing, swelling in the face, have hives, breathing difficulties, feeling very weak or dizzy and look pale.

It is possible to get the flu even after getting a flu shot. This may happen when a person is infected with a strain that was not in the shot, or if a person gets the flu before the shot has had time to take effect.

If you are concerned you should talk to your doctor before getting the flu jab.

The NHS say people who have egg allergy may be at increased risk of reaction to the injectable flu vaccine because some flu jabs are made using eggs.

In recent years, flu jabs that are egg-free have become available. If an egg-free flu vaccine is not available, your GP may be able to find a suitable flu vaccine with a low egg content. Depending on the severity of your egg allergy, your GP may decide to refer you to a specialist to have the vaccination in hospital.

If you are ill with a fever, it is best to delay your flu vaccination until you have recovered. There is no need to delay your flu jab if you have a minor illness with no fever such as a cold.

If you were pregnant it would be sensible to discuss the flu jab and any implications with your doctor or nurse.  An American study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the mother may pass some of the protection on to her unborn baby. Because babies cannot get the flu shot until they are 6 months old, this benefit may be helpful.

Experts recommend people get the flu shot as soon as it becomes available. The shot takes 2 weeks to take effect, and flu season begins as early as October in some cases. But, people may still benefit from getting the flu shot later.

Flu season typically peaks in January or February. However, experts say getting the flu shot in the late winter and early spring months may still offer protection.

The flu shot is effective for about a year. This means people need a new shot to protect themselves each flu season, even if the strains in the shot are the same.

Treatment recommendations for flu include staying at home, keep warm and rest, drinking plenty of liquids, avoid contact with other people where possible, avoid alcohol, stop smoking, and eat if possible. People that live alone should tell a relative, friend, or neighbour that they have flu and make sure someone can check in on them

I have already had my injection two weeks ago and looking forward to a healthy winter.

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