Flu jabs: don’t miss out

Many people are offered a free NHS flu jab every autumn if they have a special risk of developing problems if they catch flu.

You may be eligible for a free vaccination if you’re 65 or older, if you’re pregnant, if you have a serious medical condition, if you’re very overweight or if you live in a residential or nursing home. If you’re the main carer for an elderly of disabled person whose welfare may be affected if you catch flu, or if you have a child aged between six months and two years who’s in an at-risk group, your GP may also offer you a free NHS flu jab.

One of the reasons certain groups of people qualify for free flu jabs is because they have a higher risk of developing complications if they catch flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Vaccinating people who live in residential and nursing homes also helps to prevent the spread of flu among the residents and staff.

But what about everyone else? Even if you don’t have a high risk of developing complications of flu, the symptoms – including a fever, aches and pains, headache, tiredness, weakness and a dry, chesty cough – can by themselves be quite unpleasant. According to the NHS, flu can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.

Indeed, if you work, there’s a good chance you’ll need to take time off sick if you have flu as you may feel too weak to even get out of bed. Every year, people miss days of work because of flu. According to Unison, minor illnesses such as flu accounted for 27.4 million lost working days in the UK in 2013, with a survey by the Co-operative Group suggesting that flu accounts for the most number of work days lost among short-term illnesses.

If, on the other hand, you’re unlucky enough to catch flu over the Christmas and New Year period, it would almost certainly be a holiday you’d rather forget.


Treating flu

The flu virus is spread by infected people coughing and sneezing. The symptoms can come on much more quickly than those of a cold, and tend to be more severe and longer lasting. As well as the most common symptoms such as a high temperature and aching muscles, you may also experience diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain, as well as some of the symptoms associated with the common cold such as a runny or blocked nose, sneezing or a sore throat.

If you do catch flu, you shouldn’t have to see your GP as the symptoms can usually be treated at home. Here’s what you should do:

  • Rest as much as possible
  • Keep yourself warm
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Stay off work or school until you feel better
  • If needed, take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a temperature and relieve aches
  • Only see your GP if your symptoms last longer than a week or if they get worse


Protecting yourself

One way to help prevent flu from spoiling your winter is to get a private flu jab. Available at participating Careway pharmacies up and down the country, flu jabs may cost less than you may think (and are arguably worth every penny if they prevent you catching flu).

Private flu jabs are available if you’re aged 16 or older (18 or older in Northern Ireland), and in many cases you may not even need an appointment. They’re available from September right up until February, but it’s a good idea to have one as soon as the vaccines become available. That’s because it can take two to three weeks before the vaccine can significantly reduce your chances of catching flu.

After having your flu jab, it’s likely that you won’t experience any side effects whatsoever. Some people, however, have a few general aches and pains and may feel tired for a day or two afterwards, with some also finding their arm is a bit sore where the injection was given. If you have any concerns about side effects, your local Careway pharmacist is the best person to offer you advice on how to treat them.

Meanwhile, one of the reasons you may not be able to have a flu jab – private or free – is if you have a viral infection with a fever (you may, however, have the vaccination when you have recovered). It’s also fine to have the flu jab if you’re taking antibiotics. But people who are allergic to eggs may not be suitable, as some flu jabs are made using eggs.

There are over 400 Careway pharmacies offering the flu vaccination service. To find out more about how a private flu jab could improve your chances of staying healthy this winter, speak to your local Careway pharmacist. Find your nearest participating Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.