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Why do you need the flu vaccine?

15 September 2020

The flu vaccine for at-risk groups will be available from the end of September 2020.

The flu vaccine for children will be available from the middle of October 2020.

Seasonal flu (also known as influenza) is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus.

The virus infects your lungs and upper airways, causing a sudden high temperature and general aches and pains, headache, weakness and exhaustion. Symptoms can last for up to one week. You may need to stay in bed until your symptoms get better. Flu affects people of all ages. In some people flu can cause serious complications such as pneumonia.

How serious is flu?

The Flu virus is an unpredictable virus.

If you are healthy you will usually recover in 7 days. But Flu can be severe and can cause serious illness and death.

Complications of flu include bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections and rarely acute encephalopathy (swelling of the brain).

Serious complications of flu are more likely if you have a chronic medical condition or if you are aged 65 years or older. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of flu complications.

In Ireland, between 200 and 500 people, mainly older people, die from flu each winter.

Every year, around the world, flu causes between 3 and 5 million cases of severe disease and up to 646, 000 deaths.

At risk groups

Flu is more severe in people aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, and anyone with a long-term medical condition. The HSE is urging people in at-risk groups to get the flu vaccine.

  • People aged 65 years and over
  • Pregnant women
  • People (adults and children) with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, liver, kidney disease, cancer, chronic lung disease including COPD, or neurological diseases
  • People whose immune system is impaired due to disease or treatment including cancer patients
  • Persons who are obese who have a body mass index (BMI) of over 40
  • People with Down syndrome
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-stay institutions
  • Healthcare workers
  • Carers and household contacts of people at medical risk of the complications of flu
  • People with regular close contact with poultry, water fowl or pigs

Flu vaccine is also recommended for children aged 2 to 12 years for the 2020/2021 influenza season.

The difference between a cold and the flu

Flu symptoms come on suddenly with a fever, muscle aches, headache and fatigue. A cold usually starts gradually with a sore throat and a blocked or a runny nose. Symptoms of a cold are generally mild compared to flu.

Flu and cold symptoms

SYMPTOMS

SEASONAL FLU

COLD

FeverHigh fever lasts 3-4 daysRare
HeadacheProminentRare
General aches, painsUsual; often severeSlight
Fatigue, weaknessCan last up to 2-3 weeksQuite mild
Extreme exhaustionEarly and prominentNever
Stuffy noseSometimesCommon
SneezingSometimesUsual
Sore throatSometimesCommon
Chest discomfort, coughCommon; can become severeMild to moderate; hacking cough

How flu is spread

If you are carrying the virus, you can spread it by coughing or sneezing. This can happen from 1-2 days before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after symptoms develop.

Flu can survive on worktops and objects, especially in low temperatures and low humidity. You can get flu by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours and a soft surface for around 20 minutes.

More information

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