Flu - Prevention 

Preventing flu 

The Tokkels: flu jabs

Flu is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus. It spreads rapidly through small droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. Some people are at greater risk of developing serious complications of flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The flu vaccination is offered to people in at-risk groups.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Do I need the flu jab every year?

Yes. If you're in a high-risk group, you should have the seasonal flu vaccination every year so that you stay protected.

The viruses that cause flu change every year, so this winter's flu will be different from last winter's.

Read more about why the flu jab is given every year.

Find out if you should have the annual flu jab.

The flu jab

Flu is highly infectious – but the annual flu jab can help to prevent it

Flu Heroes

Find out about the new nasal spray flu vaccine for young children

There are three main ways of preventing flu: good hygiene, such as handwashing and cleaning, flu vaccination and antiviral medicines.

Good hygiene

Preventing the spread of germs is the most effective way of slowing the spread of flu. Always:

  • make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • clean surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly to get rid of germs
  • use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

Read more information about home hygiene.

The flu jab

flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for:

  • anyone over the age of 65 
  • pregnant women
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems

It is given as an annual injection to:

  • adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone over 65)
  • children aged six months to two years at risk of flu

The flu vaccine is also given as an annual nasal spray to:

  • children aged two to 18 years at risk of flu
  • healthy children aged two, three and four years old

It is available from October each year. If you think you need it, talk to your doctor or nurse. Find your local GP surgery here.

Read more information about:

Antiviral medication

It is recommended that you take the antiviral medicines Relenza or Tamiflu to prevent flu if all of the following apply:

  • there is a lot of flu around
  • you have a medical condition that puts you at risk of flu, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease 
  • you are aged 65 or over 
  • you have been in contact with someone with a flu-like illness and can start antiviral treatment within 48 hours
  • you have not been effectively protected by vaccination

You are not effectively protected by vaccination if you:

  • have not been vaccinated since last winter
  • cannot be vaccinated or have been vaccinated but it hasn't taken effect yet
  • have been vaccinated for a different form of flu virus

If there is an outbreak of flu in a residential or nursing home – where the flu virus can often spread very quickly – antiviral medication may be offered to people if they have been in contact with someone with confirmed flu.

For more information, read the NICE guidelines on antivirals to prevent influenza.

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015


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The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

DaveAsh said on 09 May 2014

Sawkitty & anyone else wanting the vaccine - remember that you can get it for a few pounds from a lot of supermarket & local pharmacies - so perhaps not really worth getting excited about not getting it for free from the NHS?

Be aware though that most pharmacies only apply for permission to give it to healthy adults - any other patient groups - children, pregnant women, etc. may need to still see their GP surgery for the vaccine.

And remember that the flu virus is constantly evolving - so the flu vaccine has to be changed each year to best match the virus strains which are predicted to be circulating that winter. So you need a vaccine every year to get the best protection.

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sawkitty said on 28 November 2013

you say get a flu jab but most people cant because apparently we're not at risk we can all get flu therefor we are all at risk we should all be able to get a vaccination and some people who are considered at risk are being denied i'm not considered at risk but i would like to be protected.

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gadget_uk said on 13 December 2012

To all those wanting the flu jab - I seem to get flu every 18 months resulting in at least a week off work & one time meaning I couldn't go on my holiday because of it.

In the past few years, I have worked at 2 companies who have offered the flu jab to staff for free. I had the jab twice and guess what - got flu again both times that winter! It has never worked for me and I've lost just as much time off work as the years when I didn't have the jab.

I also ended up suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome which I will probably have forever as a result of having severe flu several years ago. I have never been the same since that first time I had it.

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sorayaquartz said on 02 November 2011

Im a dental receptionist with a weak immune system and anemia, am i entitled to a flu jab? I also live with someone who has severe asthma, he has had the jab, but im not sure if i am entitled to it.

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sorayaquartz said on 02 November 2011

Im a dental receptionist with a weak immune system and anemia, am i entitled to a flu jab? I also live with someone who has severe asthma, he has had the jab, but im not sure if i am entitled to it.

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Alex Kedzlie said on 24 December 2010

I've tried on 3 occasions to get an appointment for the jab on advice from my own doctor as I have asthma. Each time the receptionists told me that they had no appointments available until the New Year.
What happens if I catch the flu virus? At best I could be seriously ill and unable to breath properly - at worst I could die. I'm fed up to the back teeth of the NHS or Government telling us we need to do certain things and then not providing us with vital services we need.

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User511844 said on 22 December 2010

Well, I registered because I've just read a comment on LRB that says more or less there is not enough uptake. And I'm angry as I have been turned down several times by my surgery.

I quote LRB

: On 14 December, the director of immunisation at the Department of Health wrote to immunisation officers at the Special Health Authorities about the poor uptake:
In view of the recent rise in the incidence of influenza, and the proximity of Christmas – when people may be away and surgeries closed – it is suggested that GP practices should actively invite (for example by telephone) those in the high risk groups who are unimmunised to visit surgeries to be vaccinated.
I have been turned down three times, I do not even get a card or anything to say I can go. I work as a care assistant, I am very prone to severe chest infections (mainly because the gps kept givning me antibiotics I was allergic to, as they forgot to put i in my notes) but hey - every time I asked it was never possible to get a flu jab.

So if we ask for a flu jab and get turned down (we have to give priority to elderly is the usual excuse). who is responsible? Is anyone reading these comments?

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Lebatsirk said on 18 December 2010

Easy to say get the flu jab. I'm in an at-risk group (asthmatic) but couldn't get an appt with either a GP or the asthma clinic to fit round picking my kids up from school. Finally got asthma clinic appt but because I have cold she can't do a thing so sent me on my way. Had to wait over 2 weeks to get appt with my GP regarding a bad leg on one side and problems with mental health meds (was due to see psych re that but NHS cancelled mental health appt and is closing dept down and saying - just go see GP). I finally get to see GP next week, but it's not much good when I've had chesty cough & cold for about 10 days, and as of 4 days ago also have pounding headache, stiff neck, chills & temperature to go with it... bit late for flu jab now eh? But I have to continue with work and the kids through it all...does anyone actually 'care' in this 'caring' profession?

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