What you need to know about the flu vaccine. By Pip Harry.
Every year about 10 to 20 per cent of the population worldwide will be knocked flat by the flu virus. Should you get an annual flu jab and lower your chances? Dr Ian Barr, from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, breaks down the risks and benefits.
I’m allergic to eggs. Can I get a shot?
As the virus used in the vaccine is grown in hens’ eggs, the vaccine may contain tiny amounts of egg proteins. This is the reason that someone who has a severe allergic response to eggs should not have a flu vaccine.
What’s the best time of year to have the flu shot?
Getting vaccinated around April/May is best as our influenza season can start as early as June but usually peaks in July or August. If you are travelling to the northern hemisphere during their winter you should consider getting vaccinated before you go.
Can you have it if you’re pregnant?
Yes. It’s safe and recommended for women who will be in their second or third trimester during flu season. Flu vaccination prevents two to three per cent of hospitalisations during the second and third trimester and also provides protection for the baby during the first months of life.
Who should be vaccinated?
An annual flu shot is recommended for people over 65, indigenous people over 15 years, those with underlying chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and children aged six months to 10 years on long-term aspirin therapy. It’s also worth having if you work with high-risk groups such as in nursing homes, or if you’re planning long-haul air travel.
Are there any risks or side effects?
Soreness at the injection site, headache and mild fever are commonly reported, but these are usually short-lived. Very rarely, allergic responses in the form of hives, swelling or anaphylaxis may occur, usually within seconds or minutes of receiving the vaccination. Urgent medical attention is required if this occurs.
Do flu shots cause febrile convulsions in babies?
In 2010, increased rates of high fever and febrile convulsions in children under five years were found with one brand of vaccine, Fluvax. This vaccine is no longer licensed for use in children. Two other brands, Influvac and Vaxigrip, are available and recommended for use in children as they are not associated with increased side effects.
How does the vaccine work?
It contains three purified influenza viruses. When injected, it is recognised by the immune system as foreign and the body raises a response similar to a natural infection, but at a much lower level. It only protects against the viruses in the vaccine, not against others, such as the common cold.
Where do I get the vaccine?
It’s available at GP clinics and some community health clinics. Ask your doctor.
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