Who is most at risk from flu?
Anyone can get the flu but it is more severe in people aged 65 years and over and anyone with a chronic medical condition. Chronic medical conditions include chronic heart conditions, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes mellitus and immunosupression due to disease or treatment. Pregnant women have also been found to be at increased risk of the complications of flu. These groups of people are targeted for influenza vaccination.
What is influenza (flu)?
Influenza is a highly infectious acute respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Influenza affects people of all ages. Outbreaks of influenza occur almost every year, usually in winter. This is why it is also known as seasonal flu.
How serious is flu?
Flu is often self limiting. Healthy people normally recover within 7 days but some people recover more quickly. People who are at risk of the complications of flu will usually feel better in about 10 days.
However, flu can be severe and can cause serious illness and death, especially in the very young and in the elderly. Serious respiratory complications can develop, including pneumonia and bronchitis, to which older people and those with certain chronic medical conditions are particularly susceptible. Pregnant women have also been found to be at increased risk of the complications of flu. Some people may need hospital treatment and between 200 and 500 people, mainly older people, die from influenza each winter.
How do people catch flu?
Flu is a highly infectious illness. A person carrying the virus can spread the illness by coughing or sneezing. A person can spread the virus from 1-2 days before they develop symptoms and for up to a week after symptoms develop.
What are the symptoms of Flu?
Flu symptoms hit you suddenly and severely. Symptoms of flu include
- sudden fever,
- myalgia (muscle pain),
- sore throat,
- non-productive dry cough.
How can flu be prevented?
Flu can be prevented by vaccination. Flu vaccine is a safe, effective way to help prevent flu infection, avoiding hospitalisation, reducing flu related deaths and illnesses.
How long is the flu season?
In the Northern hemisphere the flu season lasts from October to the end of April. Flu vaccine is recommended to protect all those in the at risk groups until the end of April. Women who are pregnant at any stage during the flu season should get flu vaccine. The flu vaccine has been given during pregnancy for the past 50 years in the US.
Who should be vaccinated?
Vaccination is strongly recommended for:
- Persons aged 65 and over
- Those aged 6 months and older with a long-term health condition such as
– Chronic heart disease (this includes anyone who has a history of having a “heart attack” or unstable angina)
– Chronic liver disease
– Chronic renal failure
– Chronic respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, moderate or severe asthma or bronchopulmonary dysplasia
– Chronic neurological disease including multiple sclerosis, hereditary and degenerative disorders of the central nervous system
– Diabetes mellitus
– Down syndrome
– Morbid obesity i.e. body mass index over 40
– Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment (these include anyone on treatment for cancer)
- Children aged 6 months and older
– with any condition that can affect lung function especially those attending special schools/day centres with cerebral palsy or intellectual disability
– on long-term aspirin therapy (because of the risk of Reyes syndrome)
- Pregnant women (vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy)
- Healthcare workers
- Residents of nursing homes and other long stay institutions
- Carers (the main carers of those in the at risk groups)
- People with regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl