We're shivering our way into winter. Usually, around this time of year, we get the electric blankets and chicken soup ready to help us fight the dreaded lurgy. But now, with the introduction of the new influenza vaccine, there's no need to suffer from flu-fear. Here, we tell you everything you need to know about it.
What is the flu vaccine?
According to Dr Christine Selvey, Queensland Health's senior director of communicable diseases, "The flu vaccine contains a small dose of parts of neutralised flu virus." So yes, it does contain the bug that gives you the flu, but because it's neutralised, it poses no threat of actually making you ill. The injection contains antigens that stimulate your immune system, therefore protecting the body against flu.
Why do I need it?
Dr Selvey says: "Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious disease that can be serious. It is spread by contact with respiratory droplets, which are scattered when people talk, cough or sneeze." Most people get flu muddled up with the common cold but flu is much more serious. "[The flu] can lead to pneumonia or even death," Dr Selvey says, "particularly in people aged 65 years and over, very young children or people with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease."
Influenza causes 2500 deaths, 80,000 GP visits and 15,000 hospitalisations among these groups of high-risk people in Australia each year. The best protection from influenza is vaccination, so anyone who wishes to protect themselves should get the injection.
Who should get it?
Anyone can get the flu jab if they believe they are at risk just ask your doctor. However, some people are more likely to get flu than others. These high-risk people include:
- people aged 65 years and older they're more likely to suffer complications from influenza
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 50 and older
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 15-49 with chronic disease
"However healthy you are," warns Dr Selvey, "if you are at risk of contracting the virus, you should get the injection."
There are also some people not eligible for the injection:
- People who have an allergy to eggs
- People who have a fever associated with another illness
What does the injection involve?
"The injection is usually given into the upper arm, but can also be given into the thigh," Dr Selvey says. It's a routine injection and shouldn't cause too much pain or discomfort.
Where do I get it done?
Flu shots are available from your local GP. Call them now to ask for more details.
Will I have any side-effects?
Don't worry, the flu vaccination is safe! "There is a very low risk of an allergic reaction to the vaccine but this is far lower than the risk of complications possible from contracting flu," says Dr Selvey. "Some people can experience soreness and redness at the injection site for a day or two." A small percentage of people may also suffer short-lived fever and tiredness and symptoms similar to the flu. But contrary to the urban legend, you can't get the flu from the flu shot.
Will it cost me?
"For most people, the vaccine is available with a prescription from local pharmacies for around $20," says Dr Selvey. However, the vaccine is available free of charge for people in the above listed high-risk groups. Remember, GPs may charge consultation fees in addition to the cost of the vaccine.
Does it actually work?
In a word, yes. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine has been well documented. "Statistics show that in healthy people under the age of 65, the vaccine can be 70-90 percent effective in preventing the flu," claims Dr Selvey. "The vaccine is 30-70 percent effective in preventing hospitalisation for pneumonia and influenza among the elderly and is 80 percent effective in preventing death."
When do I get it?
The best time to be vaccinated against influenza is in autumn, before the influenza outbreaks in winter. "And it's important to get the vaccination every year," says Dr Selvey. "Influenza virus strains change from year to year, so last year's vaccine won't work well for this year's flu season."
How to spot the symptoms of flu?
Most of us confuse influenza and a cold but they are totally different. A cold leaves you feeling lousy but influenza is much more serious because of its debilitating symptoms, which can last for several weeks. Look out for the rapid onset of these symptoms:
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry cough
- Body aches
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
Contact your health care provider, doctor or state or territory health department for more details on the vaccination. Go to fightflu.gov.au for more info on fighting flu.