What is immunisation?
Immunisation uses the body’s natural defence system to build up resistance to an infection. The flu vaccine contains inactive particles of the virus that stimulate the body’s own immune response without causing you to contract the virus itself.
What is influenza? (“The Flu”)
- A highly infectious viral illness, transmitted from person to person by respiratory particles produced during coughing or sneezing or by direct contact.
- Caused by the influenza virus
- Tends to be more severe than the common cold
- Symptoms include: rapid onset of fever, muscle aches, joint pains, sore throat, runny nose, headache and generally feeling unwell
- Can last up to 10 days
- Peak time for catching the flu is winter
- Majority of flu cases can be prevented by immunisation
- Flu can develop into a more serious illness such as pneumonia
Often people think that they have the flu when they have a sore throat and runny nose but this is usually not the case. It is much more likely that they have a cold which is a short term, mild illness. The “cold” is caused by a range of viruses that are different to the flu virus.
When someone is suffering from the flu they are often confined to bed. It can last up to 10 days and can lead to life threatening complications in high-risk individuals such as the elderly, the very young or those with chronic illnesses.
Can I get the flu from vaccination?
No. The vaccine only contains inactive flu virus particles (the virus has been concentrated, killed and broken apart). It is therefore incapable of causing influenza infection.
People who develop a runny nose or sore throat after vaccination have usually developed another viral illness.
How often is flu vaccination required?
Once a year
How long does it take for me to be protected and how long does that protection last?
You will form antibodies to fight the flu around 3-14 days after receiving your immunisation. Antibodies will peak at 4-6 weeks – this is when you are most protected. Over time these antibodies fall but you continue to be protected for 1 year.
Why do I need to be vaccinated every year?
The influenza virus strains change each year so the vaccine is changed accordingly. The World Health Organization predicts the three most
expected strains and the vaccine manufacturers are all required to formulate their vaccines to cover these 3 strains.
What strains does the 2014 vaccine protect against?
The 2014 vaccine protects against the 3 most likely flu strains to circulate the Southern Hemisphere in 2014:
A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) – Like virus
A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2) – Like virus
B/Massachusetts/2/2012 – Like virus
How effective is the Influenza vaccine?
The vaccine prevents up to 90% of cases of flu infection in healthy adults.
Who should be vaccinated?
- Anyone over the age of 6 months is eligible
- Anyone who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming unwell with influenza should be vaccinated.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding (including in the first trimester)
- Those over 65 years of age
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults 50 years and older
- Those with chronic diseases (especially those with chronic heart, lung, kidney and metabolic disorders such as diabetes)
- Those receiving immune suppressive therapy
- Those who could transmit influenza to those at increased risk.
Who is eligible for a Government funded vaccine?
- Pregnant women
- People 65 years and over
- Aboriginal Australians 15 years and over
- All children aged 6 months to four years not already eligible to receive influenza vaccine under the NIP.
- People aged 6 months and over with a medical condition that places them at risk of complications due to influenza, such as:
- Cardiac complications
- Chronic respiratory complications
- Chronic illness requiring regular medical follow-up or hospitalisation
- Chronic neurological conditions
- People with impaired immunity
- Children aged 6 months to 10 years receiving long term aspirin therapy
Who should not be given the vaccine?
As it is a highly purified, inactive vaccine, there are few contraindications to influenza vaccination:
- Anyone with a known allergy to the antibiotics: gentamycin, neomycin or polymyxin
- Anyone with a known allergy to other components of the vaccine: polysorbate 80, octoxinol 9 and formaldehyde.
- Anyone with a severe allergy to eggs or chicken feathers (People who develop swelling to the tongue, lips or develop any form of respiratory distress or collapse when exposed to the above)
- Anyone with a high fever present
- After an influenza vaccine the usual dose of some medications can be affected. These medications include Carbamazepine (used in epilepsy or convulsions), Phenobarbitone (used in epilepsy, convulsions, anxiety, insomnia), Phenytoin (used in epilepsy or convulsions), Theophylline (used for asthma), Warfarin (used to prevent blood clots). If you are on any of these medications you should consult your own doctor to see if they wish to organise a blood test within a few days of your vaccination to check your medications levels.
If I am travelling overseas should I have this vaccine before I go?
Yes. Anyone travelling overseas should be vaccinated. Ideally you should be vaccinated no later than 2 days prior to travel in case you experience rare side effects which require advice or treatment.
I have a cold or have already had the flu this year. Can I still have a flu vaccination?
Usually the vaccine is only delayed if your temperature is high e.g. over 38 degrees Celsius. If you have a cold your temperature is unlikely to be this high and you will still be able to have the vaccination. Even if you have already had the flu this year you will still benefit from the vaccine as it will protect you against two other flu strains.
I am on antibiotics. Can I still have a flu vaccination?
Yes. The vaccine does not interact with any antibiotics so it is safe to have the vaccine while you are taking antibiotics.
I am allergic to penicillin. Can I still have the vaccine?
Yes. The vaccine does not contain any penicillin so it is safe to have the vaccine.
What are the possible side effects?
Possible: Redness, soreness, itching, bruising or mild swelling at the injection site. This usually clears within 24–48hrs. Occasionally people develop a mild fever within 24– 48hrs of the vaccine and occasionally muscle aches, headaches or a general unwell feeling. This usually lasts no more than 24-48hrs. Allergic reaction in those allergic to any of the vaccines components.
Are there any more serious side-effects?
There have been inconclusive reports of serious neurological disorders in people who have previously suffered from the severe nervous system disorder ‘Guillian Barre Syndrome”. Those who have had Guillian Barre Syndrome should discuss this with their doctor prior to receiving the flu vaccination.
Does it reduce my natural immunity?
No. Vaccination does not reduce your natural immunity to infections – it acts as a “booster” to the immune system.
When should vaccination be carried out?
Vaccination is best carried out during March – May each year, before the onset of the peak season for flu (July – September).
What if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
Pregnant women are recognised as a high priority for receiving the vaccine. This is based on (a) good evidence that the vaccine is safe for both pregnant women and the unborn child (b) good evidence to show that the vaccine reduces the risk of illness and hospitalisation due to influenza and pneumonia in vaccinated pregnant women (c) the process of vaccinating pregnant women extends protection against influenza and pneumonia to the unborn/newborn child which continues until the child is 6 months of age (d) there is evidence that It reduces the incidences of stillbirth and premature birth. The vaccine may be administered during all stages of pregnancy, including the first trimester.
The vaccine is safe to give during all stages of breastfeeding. If you are concerned talk to your GP or Obstetrician.
What else can I do to avoid getting the flu or a cold?
- Cover your nose and your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue in the rubbish bin after you have used it.
- Wash your hands with soap and water regularly and thoroughly, especially after you cough or sneeze.
- Don’t share eating and drinking utensils or share foods and drinks.
- Regularly clean surfaces such as desks, taps and fridge doors as flu viruses can live on these kinds of surfaces for a number of hours.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as germs are commonly spread this way.
- Boost your immune system with a balanced diet, exercise and rest and try to reduce stress.