Health: Expert advice on flu vaccine

Latest Department of Health statistics reveal that nearly half of over 65 year olds have not yet had the seasonal flu vaccination, despite it being free.

Professor James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, is offering the following advice as the charity launches its annual Spread the Warmth campaign, which aims to help older people keep warm and in good health this winter.

What is flu? Flu (also known as influenza) is a virus of the lungs and upper airways. Symptoms include fever, aching muscles, sneezing and the feeling of general tiredness. Complications associated with flu include bacterial chest infection and, in rare circumstances, flu can lead to encephalitis and even meningitis.

Why do I need a vaccine? As we age, our ability to fight infection declines, which is why flu in later life can potentially be deadly, especially because it is a virus and cannot be treated by antibiotics. In addition, untold numbers of people are left bed-ridden or even admitted to hospital for weeks at a time due to flu.

I had a vaccine last year, why do I need another? Every year the strain of flu is different, therefore a flu vaccine is required annually.

How do I get a vaccine? Call your local GP surgery to book an appointment to get a flu vaccination. Most surgeries will be running flu clinics at this time of year, so book now.

Do I have to pay to get the vaccine? The flu vaccine is free of charge to everyone aged 65 and over and to those in ‘at risk’ groups. If you are not 65 or over and/or do not fall into an ‘at risk’ category, you may face a charge for the flu vaccine. For further information ask your GP.

What else can I do? The simple truth is that a flu vaccine is the best way of preventing flu. However, doing obvious things such as using a tissue or handkerchief when sneezing and regularly washing your hands can help prevent the spread of germs.

As well as this, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, wrapping up warm when you go outside and making sure that the temperature in your bedroom doesn’t drop below 18 degrees centigrade are great ways to keep healthy during the winter.