Have you had your flu vaccination?

The flu virus circulates every winter, usually over a period of a few weeks. The best time to have a flu jab is in the autumn, between late September and early November. Do not wait until the winter, when there is already a flu epidemic. They are free of charge in the UK if you are over six months of age and fall into one of the categories listed below.

Each year, the viruses that are most likely to cause flu are identified in advance and vaccines are made to match them as closely as possible. The vaccines are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
 
Most injected flu vaccines protect against three types of flu virus:
  • A/H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009
  • A/H3N2 – a strain of flu that mainly affects the elderly and people with risk factors like a long term health condition. In 2017/18 the vaccine will contain an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 H3N2-like virus
  • Influenza B – a strain of flu that particularly affects children. In 2017/18 the vaccine will contain B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus

The nasal spray flu vaccine and some injected vaccines also offer protection against a fourth B strain of virus, which in 2017/18 is the B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus. This 'flu jab' is used not just in the UK, but throughout the Northern hemisphere. It gives good protection (70-80% reliability) against all strains of flu included in the vaccination and lasts for a year.

It is recommended you have a flu jab if you:

  • are 65 years of age or over
  • are pregnant
  • are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility 
  • receive a carer's allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill 
  • a frontline health or social care worker
  • have certain medical conditions including :
    • chronic (long term) liver disease 
    • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication, azathioprine, cancer treatment or transplant)

Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.

If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system, you may also be advised to have a flu vaccine. Speak to your GP or pharmacist about this.

GP surgeries organise special vaccination sessions in the autumn. However, many patients with PSC tell us that they do not get invited for a flu vaccine. Although we fall into the ‘chronic liver disease’ category, PSC is relatively rare and may not be flagged up as a liver disease in the GP’s database. 

If you think you need a seasonal flu vaccination, be proactive and ask.

Reviewed 09 Sep 2017

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