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What is Influenza (flu)?
Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious disease that is caused by influenza viruses. Influenza viruses infect the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs) in humans. The flu is different from a cold, mainly because the symptoms and complications are more severe and usually comes on suddenly. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent this illness is by getting a flu vaccination.
What are the symptoms of Flu?
Symptoms of flu include:
- Fever (usually high)
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches
- Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults
What are the complications of Flu?
The Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.
How does Flu Spread?
Flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from person to person, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
Preventing the Flu: Get Vaccinated
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination before the onset of winter. There are two types of vaccines:
- The "flu shot" – an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. This is the most widely used method.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine – a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 5 years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
Each of the two vaccines contains three influenza viruses, representing one of the three groups of viruses circulating among people in a given year. Each of the three vaccine strains in both vaccines – one A (H3N2) virus, one A (H1N1) virus, and one B virus – are representative of the influenza vaccine strains recommended for that year. Viruses for both vaccines are grown in eggs.
Both flu vaccines (the flu shot and the nasal-spray flu vaccine (LAIV)) work in the same way; they cause antibodies to develop in the body, and these antibodies provide protection against influenza virus infection. About two weeks after vaccination, the antibodies develop and protect against influenza virus infection.
Getting the shot does not guarantee that you won't get the flu, but it does mean that you have a much smaller chance of getting sick from it.
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year. They are either people who are at high risk of having serious flu complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious complications.
Does the flu shot have side effects?
In most people the flu shot causes no reaction. The viruses in the shot are dead, so you cannot get the flu from it.
In some people, the flu shot may cause mild side effects, including soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fever, and aches.
These mild symptoms usually begin soon after the shot is given, and last one to two days.
Like any medication, the flu shot can cause a serious allergic reaction, but the risk of this is very small. If you have any unusual problems a few minutes to a few hours after getting the shot, such as high fever, difficulty breathing, hives, weakness, or dizziness, call your doctor right away.
If I got a vaccine last year, will that protect against the flu for this year?
Vaccination last year is unlikely to protect against influenza this year because a person's immunity after influenza vaccination declines over the year after vaccination. This is one reason why it is recommended that people get vaccinated every year.
Where can I get the flu vaccine in London?
Normally if you are in the 'high risk' category, you can this done at your GP. However, if you are not and would still like to get yourself protected, e-med Private Medical Services located in St Johns Wood, offers the flu vaccinations. Click here for more information.