You will be eligible to receive the flu vaccine if you meet any of the following criteria:
- All patients aged 65 and over.
- Chronic respiratory disease (aged 6 months or older).
- Chronic heart disease (aged 6 months or older).
- Chronic kidney disease (aged 6 months or older).
- Chronic liver disease (aged 6 months or older).
- Chronic Neurological disease (aged 6 months or older).
- Diabetes (aged 6 months or older).
- Immunosuppression (aged 6 months or older).
- People living in long-stay residential care homes or other long-stay care facilities where rapid spread is likely to follow introduction of infection and cause high morbidity and mortality. This does not include, for instance, prisons, young offender institutions, or university halls of residence.
- Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy (first, second or third trimesters).
- Those who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer, or the carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill. Please note – this category refers to individual carers entitled to a free flu vaccine on the NHS, not professional health and social care workers who should be vaccinated by their employers as part of an occupational health programme.
Please contact your surgery in late August / early September to book a flu vaccination appointment if you are eligible.
Influenza and the flu virus
Influenza (often referred to as the flu) is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, mouth, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs). There are three types of flu virus: A, B and C, with A and B responsible for most clinical illness.
Following infection, flu has a usual incubation period of one to three days. The disease is characterised by the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, muscle and congestion and diarrhoea may occur. For otherwise healthy individuals, flu is an unpleasant but usually self-limiting disease with recovery usually within two to seven days. A proportion of people infected may have very mild illness or no symptoms at all. These people may still infect all others with flu. For those that become sick, the illness may be complicated by bronchitis or pneumonia (either from the virus itself or a secondary bacterial infection) and, in children, otitis media (ear infection). In some rare cases, infection can cause cardiac problems, meningitis and/or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The risk of serious illness from influenza is higher amongst children under six months of age, older people and those with underlying health conditions such as respiratory or cardiac disease or immunosuppression.
The genetic make up of the flu virus is unstable and new variations (strains) often emerge. Minor changes (‘drifts’) occur from season to season. Major changes (‘shifts’) occur periodically, resulting in the emergence of a new subtype of the virus that can cause widespread epidemics or even a pandemic if populations have little or no immunity to that strain. The World Health Organization (WHO) monitors changes in flu viruses in order to make recommendations on the most appropriate three strains to include in flu vaccine. It also monitors changes in flu viruses to assess their potential to cause a pandemic.
How flu spreads
Flu is passed from person to person through droplets created when someone with the infection sneezes or coughs. Infection can also be spread by contact with surfaces on which the virus has become deposited. Flu can spread rapidly.
Most cases of flu in the UK tend to occur during an eight to ten week period during the winter. The timing, extent and severity of this ‘seasonal’ flu can all vary and is unpredictable. Flu A is the predominant virus causes outbreaks most years and is usually the cause of epidemics. Large epidemics occur intermittently. Flu B tends to cause less severe disease, although in children the severity of illness may be similar to that associated with flu A.
Impact of flu each winter on the population
The impact of flu on the population can vary from year to year and is influenced by changes in the virus that, in turn, influence the proportion of the population that may be susceptible to infection and the severity of the illness it causes. The proportion of the population susceptible to infection depends on how many people have been exposed to the same or similar strains in the past and consequently have some immunity, and how many have been vaccinated against the circulating strains.