The flu can be very unpleasant, but it's not usually serious. However, for some, flu can develop into something far more sinister. According to Public Health England (PHE) estimates, an average of 8,000 people per year die as a result of the virus.
Because of this, a campaign rolls out every year to encourage those who are most at risk to get a free flu jab to protect them from getting this potentially fatal illness.
Am I eligible for a free flu jab?
The NHS has clear guidelines about who can get the free vaccination:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- healthcare workers who come directly into contact with patients
- those on a carer's allowance (or caring someone who’s elderly or disabled)
- pregnant women
If you’ve been diagnosed with particular medical conditions you may be eligible too:
- serious kidney disease
- a serious heart condition
That list isn't exclusive though, and there are plenty of other conditions that may also put you at risk of developing complications from flu. If in doubt, contact your GP.
Similarly, if you feel unwell, you should seek a professional's advice, as you may need a prescription of antiviral medicine to stop the virus taking a turn for the worse.
Take a look at our 'Have I got flu or a cold?' guide for an explanation of some of the symptoms you should be looking out for.
Getting the flu jab when you're pregnant
If you’re pregnant, your immune system may not be working hard enough to combat the flu virus. As a result, this can increase both the mother and baby's risk of becoming seriously ill.
GPs should offer the flu vaccine to women at any stage of pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or your midwife if you'd like to protect yourself against the virus in this way.
What are flu complications?
According to the NHS, the most common flu complication is a bacterial chest infection, which can occasionally develop into pneumonia (an infection of the lungs).
While this can be treated with antibiotics, in rare situations it can be life-threatening, especially when the person is elderly.
Other uncommon complications can include:
- septic shock
Last winter, PHE had 904 reports of people being admitted to intensive care or a high dependency unit as a result of flu, highlighting the health risks the virus can pose.