As we prepare for the winter season amid the Covid-19 pandemic, now is the time to think about booking your flu vaccine with your GP or pharmacist. Flu vaccination is free for all children aged from 2 to 17 years (as a nasal spray), and all persons aged 65 years and over, and also for those in at-risk groups as per the HSE criteria.
What is the Flu?
Seasonal or winter flu (also known as influenza) is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus. The virus infects your lungs and upper airways, causing a sudden high temperature and general aches and pains, headache, weakness and exhaustion. Symptoms can last for up to one week, and you may need to stay in bed until your symptoms get better. Flu affects people of all ages, and in some cases flu can cause serious complications such as pneumonia.
How flu is spread?
If you are carrying the virus, you can spread it by coughing or sneezing. This can happen from 1-2 days before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after symptoms develop. Flu can survive on worktops and objects, especially in low temperatures and low humidity. You can get flu by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours and a soft surface for around 20 minutes.
How serious is Flu?
The Flu virus is an unpredictable virus. If you are healthy, you will usually recover within 7 days. But Flu can be severe and can cause serious illness and even death. Complications of flu can include bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections and rarely acute encephalopathy (swelling of the brain). Serious complications of flu are more likely if you have a chronic medical condition or if you are aged 65 years or older. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of flu complications.
In Ireland, between 200 and 500 people, mainly older people, die from flu each winter. Every year, around the world, flu causes between 3 and 5 million cases of severe disease and up to 646,000 deaths.
The HSE are strongly urging people in at-risk groups to get the flu vaccine. It is highly recommended to receive the vaccine if you:
- are 65 years of age and over
- are pregnant
- work in healthcare
- are a child or adult with a long-term health condition
- live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
- are a carer or household contact of anyone at increased medical risk of flu
- in regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl
Who should not get the Flu Vaccine?
You should not get the flu vaccine if you have had a severe allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction to a previous dose or any part of the vaccine. Don’t get the flu vaccine if you are taking medicines called combination checkpoint inhibitors (e.g. ipilimumab plus nivolumab). Vaccination should be re-scheduled if you have an acute illness with a temperature greater than 38°C.
The Flu Vaccine
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against 4 strains of flu virus recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the strains most likely to be circulating this season. The flu viruses that are circulating change every year. This is why you need to get a new vaccine each year. You should get your flu vaccination from September onward to be protected for flu season.
The flu vaccine is free if you are in an at-risk group or if you have a medical card or a GP visit card. The flu vaccine doesn’t contain any live viruses – it cannot give you the flu.
How it works
The flu vaccine helps your immune system to produce antibodies to fight influenza virus. If you have been vaccinated and you come into contact with the virus, these antibodies will attack it and stop you from getting sick. The flu vaccine starts to work within two weeks.