Preventing flu 

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

Good hygiene

To reduce your risk of getting flu or spreading it to other people, you should always:

  • make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and warm 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 about preventing the spread of germs.

The flu vaccine

The annual flu vaccine can help reduce your risk of getting flu each year, although it's not 100% effective because it doesn't work against every possible type of flu virus.

flu vaccine is available for free on the NHS for:

  • anyone over the age of 65 
  • pregnant women
  • anyone who is very overweight (with a body mass index over 40)
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or lung disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems

Adults over 18 and children aged six months to two years in these groups are given an annual injection, while children aged two to 18 are given an annual nasal spray.

The annual nasal spray is also now given to healthy children aged two, three and four years old, and to children in school years one and two.

The best time to have the vaccine is in the autumn, between September and early November. If you think you need it, contact your local GP surgery. Find your nearest GP surgery here.

You should have the flu vaccination every year so 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:

Antiviral medication

Taking the antiviral medicines oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) to prevent flu is recommended if all of the following apply:

  • there is a lot of flu around
  • you're over 65, pregnant, or have a medical condition that puts you at risk of complications of flu, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease 
  • you have been in contact with someone with a flu-like illness and can start antiviral treatment within 36-48 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 (this can take up to two weeks)
  • have been vaccinated against a form of flu virus that's different to the type going around

If there's 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 guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on antivirals to prevent influenza.

Page last reviewed: 01/04/2015

Next review due: 01/04/2017