You know winter is looming when people start talking about the flu.

Here’s all you need to know about this dreaded winter virus and why it’s so important to avail of the vaccine.

It’s that time of year again when the seasonal flu virus makes itself known. Known as influenza, seasonal flu is highly infectious and can have serious repercussions for people in at-risk groups.

The virus infects your lungs and upper airways, causing a high temperature and aches and pains, headache, weakness and exhaustion.

Getting the flu vaccine reduces the risk of getting the virus by 60%. Pic: iStock

A recent survey carried out by Boots revealed that 57% of people in Ireland have never been vaccinated against the flu and surprisingly only 29% plan to get vaccinated for the 2019/2020 flu season.

Despite that during the 2018/2019 flu season, 3,217 influenza hospitalised cases were reported in Ireland putting massive pressure on an already busy health system.

While these were the most severe cases, getting a flu vaccination reduces the risk of getting the flu by up to 60% and helps prevent the spread of the virus.

Common misconception...

There’s quite a big misconception around that the flu vaccine can give you the flu but it’s not the case –the vaccine contains killed or inactive viruses so you simply can’t get the flu from it. Of this misconception and others Donal O’Sullivan, pharmacist in Boots Pharmacy, Killarney said: "It’s a dead vaccine so it can’t give you the flu but it is a medicine and like any medicine there is the possibility of side effects that the doctor or the pharmacist can discuss with the patient prior to immunisation.

"The other big issue that people don’t realise is that healthy people can have the flu without any obvious symptoms but the trouble is they can pass it on to vulnerable people and compromise them. That’s why it’s so important for carers or health care workers to get it."

Pregnant women are among the 'at-risk' groups. Pic: Stock

So how can you tell the difference between a cold and a flu?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a common cold and the flu virus. Flu symptoms tend to come on much more rapidly and are usually accompanied by muscle aches and extreme exhaustion. Colds usually develop more slowly with a stuffy nose, sneezing and a mild to moderate cough.

Who should get vaccinated?

  • If you’re in one of the following at-risk groups, vaccination is strongly recommended:
  • People aged 65 and over
  • Those with a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, heart, kidney, liver, lung or neurological disease
  • People whose immune system is impaired due to disease or treatment
  • People with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 40
  • People with haemoglobinopathy
  • People with Down's syndrome
  • Pregnant women (*it can be given at any stage of pregnancy)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long stay institutions
  • Healthcare workers
  • Carers
  • People with regular close contact with poultry, water fowl or pigs
  • A household contact to an at-risk person

It is also important to remember that you should not get the flu vaccine if you have had a severe allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction to a previous dose or any part of the vaccine or if you are taking medicines called combination checkpoint inhibitors (e.g. ipilimumab plus nivolumab). Always consult your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure on whether you should avail of it or not.

If you do get the flu, the best advice is to rest. Pic: Stock

What to do if you do get the flu?

Donal recommends: "Rest is very important. Fatigue can often be one of the symptoms, so lots of rest, ensure you’re eating a good balanced diet and ensure to avoid contact with anybody in the at-risk groups."

Will I be eligible for a free winter flu vaccination?

If you are aged 10 years or over, are one of the people for whom vaccination is strongly recommended and have a Medical Card, Doctor Visit Card, HAA Card or 2015A Card you are entitled to receive the winter flu vaccination and consultation free of charge from your pharmacist.

The winter flu vaccination service for children from the age of 10 years, is available in selected stores only. You can book an appointment for children aged 10 to 15 online at boots.ie. If you are unsure about your eligibility for a free vaccination, speak to your Boots pharmacist.