Influenza (flu) prevention
This winter it's more important than ever for older people to help protect themselves against the flu.
While we're still learning about coronavirus, we know a lot about the flu and can help to protect people against it.
If you're 65 and over, getting your free flu vaccination is a very important way to help protect your health this winter.
Read our information on what to do if you're feeling unwell, simple steps to take to protect yourself and others, and the latest information from the Government.
What is the flu?
The flu is an illness that affects the respiratory system. It's caused by the influenza virus and is very contagious.
It's in season from October through to March. Even if the weather's mild, you can still catch it.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of the flu can include:
- a fever
- a dry cough
- sore throat
- muscle aches
- feeling sick and being sick
- feeling very tired.
How can I treat the flu?
As the flu is a virus, antibiotics won’t relieve flu symptoms or help your recovery.
To help you get better you should drink plenty of water, rest as much as possible and try to keep warm. Taking ibuprofen and paracetamol can help ease some of the symptoms.
How can I stop myself catching the flu?
Influenza is a very infectious virus. To reduce the risk of spreading it make sure you wash your hands often, use tissues whenever you cough, or sneeze and bin used tissues as quickly as possible.
There is a vaccine available for those who are at a higher risk of the flu.
Even if it's a mild winter, flu is in season, so it's important to have an annual free flu jab if you're eligible. This helps protect you and any person you care for.
Who can get a free flu jab?
From 1 December everyone aged 50 and over is eligible to get a free flu vaccine. This includes people who will be 50 by 31 March 2021.
You can get a free flu jab from your GP or pharmacist if:
- you're aged 65 and over
- you live in residential care or another long-stay care facility
- you provide care for an older or disabled person
- you live in the same household as someone who is on the Shielded Patient List or is immunocompromised
- you have certain health conditions. A full list of can be found on the NHS website.
- you're gnant
- Children aged two to eleven
- People aged 50-64 may become eligible later in the Autumn. Check on the NHS Flu page to find out when this comes into effect.
If you're a frontline worker in the NHS, the NHS will pay for your vaccination.
If you work in social care your employer should organise and pay for your vaccine. If your employer does not offer the vaccine and you work for either a registered residential care or nursing home, a registered home care organisation or a hospice, you may be able to have a free vaccine at your GP or pharmacist.
You should be able to get a free flu jab from your GP or pharmacist if you provide health or social care through Direct Payments (personal budgets) or Personal Health Budgets (such as Personal Assistants) or both.
Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you think you could be eligible.
When should I have the flu jab?
Most surgeries and pharmacists start to offer the jab in late September or early October.
It takes up to 14 days for the vaccine to take effect, so it's better to have it as early as possible.
However, the flu season lasts until the end of March, so it's well worth protecting yourself up until then.
Where can I get my flu jab?
You can have your flu jab at your GP surgery or a local pharmacy offering the service. Where you go is your decision.
We’ve answered some more frequently asked questions
I had a seasonal flu jab last year. Do I need one this year?
Is it safe to visit my GP for a flu jab?
Do I need the pneumo jab?
How can I reduce my risk of catching the flu?
How will my body react to the flu jab?
Can the flu jab make me ill?
Can I have the flu jab while I'm taking antibiotics?
How do vaccines work?
Does the flu jab contain pork or egg?
How to stay healthy this winter
It can be harder to keep well in the winter months as we age. We've got lots of ideas to help you feel your best, whatever the weather.
- Tips and advice on preparing for winter
- If you've recently lost weight without intending to or have a smaller appetite than usual, find out why this might be and what can be done to help.
- Read our healthy eating guide
- For NHS information on flu and the flu vaccine
- Download the NHS information leaflet for patients with a learning disability (PDF, 1 MB)
- Download your guide to having your flu jab during the coronavirus pandemic (PDF, 382 KB)