The flu is a highly infection virus that affects the respiratory system and cannot be treated with antibiotics. The flu virus can be broken into three key types – A, B, C. However, within each of these, many different strains can exist.
Type A – This is the most serious type of flu virus and it's the most likely to mutate and develop into new strains that people aren't immune to. It can affect animals and humans and is known to be carried by birds. The swine flu, and other flu pandemics, is a result of this type of flu virus.
Type B – This type of flu virus is one that affects humans only and more commonly affects younger children. It is less severe than type A but it can still cause complications, particularly for certain at-risk groups.
Type C– This type of flu virus is the mildest form of flu and affects humans only. Most people won't suffer serious complications with this, even though it will make them feel unwell.
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The flu can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia. Certain groups who are at-risk of developing these serious complications are advised to get the flu vaccine, which is free on the NHS. These include:
People with underlying health issues or who have compromised immune systems. This includes people with heart complaints, respiratory conditions such as asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, a history of strokes, problems with their spleen and those undergoing cancer treatment.
The flu vaccine is not suitable for children under six months old or for anyone who has had an allergic reaction to the vaccine in the past or is allergic to any of its ingredients. To halt the spread and to protect yourself from the flu virus, annual vaccination is recommended.
The flu vaccine is made up of inactivated or killed strains of the flu virus. Each year, the vaccines are altered to include the latest flu strains in circulation; this is based on the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) published each spring.
The three most likely flu strains are grown on fertilised hen's eggs. The vaccines usually contain two types of the A flu virus, which is the most serious type; and one type of the B flu virus, which mainly affects young children. The viruses are then killed and purified so manufacturers can use them to create the vaccines.
Even though the virus strains in the vaccine are inactive, once your body's immune system is exposed to them, it will still create antibodies to attack them. This means that after 10-14 days you will have developed immunity against these strains should you get exposed to the active virus.
There are two methods of administering the flu vaccine:
0The flu vaccination is most commonly given as an injection, known as the 'flu jab'. The inactivated flu vaccine is given by injecting a single dose of 0.5ml liquid into the arm. It's usually injected into the deltoid muscles, but since 2011/2012 it can also be administered as an intradermal vaccine that means injecting it into the skin instead of the muscle.
For children, the flu vaccine can be administered as a single dose nasal spray. It's used for those between two and 17 years old and can be even more effective than the injection. It's estimated that the introduction of this flu vaccine for children could eventually prevent up to 2,000 deaths as a result of the flu.
Each year the flu vaccines are updated to protect against the latest strains of the flu virus. These are normally available by September or early October each year, so you can get vaccinated before the winter months.
To get you or your child vaccinated, you can contact your local GP. Many surgeries will run free specific flu vaccination clinics from October to early November each year and these are advertised abundantly. For adults in high-risk categories, it's also possible to now get your flu jab at some community pharmacies.
You should advise your doctor if you have:
If these circumstances apply, you may not be a suitable candidate for the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccination is an effective form of prevention. It takes approximately two weeks after the vaccine is administered before you will be immunised. It is still possible to get the flu after being vaccinated, as it cannot vaccinate against every strain of the flu virus. However, if you do catch the flu after the vaccine, it is likely that your symptoms will be much milder.
As well as vaccinations there are other medications that can help halt and stop the spread of the virus. For certain at risk groups who have been exposed to the virus, or in the case of a flu outbreak, antiviral medications such as Tamiflu can also be prescribed preventively.