Written by: Cally Worden
I was always under the impression that flu was a virus, meaning that no meds known to wo-man would help send it packing. So what is flu jab exactly and does it do any good? Experts recommend that anyone who is at risk from serious complications from flu should have it. This includes infants and young children, OAPs and anyone known to have a weak immune system.
What is Flu?
Flu is a virus that is passed from one person to another via particles that become airborne when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Typical symptoms include a high fever, chills, aching muscles and headaches. Secondary symptoms which may occur are a cough and sore throat. Flu is a highly infectious virus. It is not caused by bacteria and so antibiotics are ineffective against it. Complications from flu can include pneumonia and bronchitis. In very rare cases flu can also trigger tonsillitis, meningitis and encephalitis.
How does the Flu Jab Work?
The flu vaccine can be administered as an injection in children under the age of two and in adults. For children over the age of two it is normally given as a nasal spray. Both vaccines work by putting small amounts of inactive (injection) or weakened (nasal spray) strains of the flu virus into your body.
These strains cannot cause flu to develop in your body, but instead trick your immune system into thinking flu is present. Your body’s defences then kick-in to start combating the imagined threat, and antibodies are produced. If you are then exposed to the real flu virus your body is ready – antibodies are produced to attack the virus and flu is far less likely to take hold.
How is the Vaccine Created?
Each year the World Health Organisation (WHO) assesses which strains of the flu virus (and there are many) are most likely to be doing the rounds in the coming winter. They select the three most threatening strains and use these to create the vaccine. This is done by infecting hens’ eggs with the three flu strains, and then killing (deactivating) the viruses and cleansing them for use in the vaccine.
How long is it Effective?
The flu jab takes around 10 -14 days to become effective in your body. The antibodies it produces do decrease in number over time, which is why an annual renewal of the vaccine is recommended. This yearly boost will also ensure you are protected from new strains of the flu virus that are identified as the years go by.
You also need to know:
- No vaccine is 100% effective – there are many other strains of the flu virus in existence, and new ones are mutating all the time. The WHO does its best, but the vaccine cannot protect you from flu completely
- As the vaccine is grown in hen’s eggs it is vital that anyone with an egg allergy requests an alternative (limited options may be offered)
- To obtain the flu jab you should speak to your GP
- The most effective time to receive the jab is in the Autumn – from the beginning of October to early November
- Anyone with existing medical conditions, child or adult, should seek medical advice before receiving the jab
- The flu jab is generally considered to be safe for pregnant women, but check with your health advisor