Flu is caused by a virus that is very easy to spread through coughing, sneezing and touching surfaces with the virus on, but flu is not the same as the common cold. It is caused by a different group of viruses and the effects are different.1 Flu is not just a bad cold – the symptoms of flu tend to start more suddenly, can be more severe and last a week or more. 1,2

You can catch flu all year round but it is especially common in winter, which is why it is also known as ‘seasonal flu’.1 Flu causes a seasonal epidemic every year.3 There are steps you can take to help stop you from catching and spreading flu, including good hygiene practices and getting your flu vaccination.

Family walking in the countryside


Flu vaccination

Flu vaccination can help protect you and others against getting and spreading flu.4 It can help reduce the risk of the more serious effects of flu.4 People with certain health conditions are more likely to experience serious effects if they catch flu.4 A flu vaccination is offered free of charge on the NHS to eligible people who are considered at risk, even if they feel well.5

The injectable flu vaccination cannot give you flu.6

The flu vaccination activates your body’s internal defence – your immune system – to create the proteins that ‘fight’ influenza, the virus that causes flu. These proteins are known as ‘antibodies’, and they may work against the different types of influenza, which are called ‘strains’.7 Your body may take 10–14 days to ‘teach’ your immune system to work against the influenza strains contained in the flu vaccination. 7 Then, if you are exposed to the flu virus, your immune system will be able to recognise the virus and make the correct antibodies to fight it. 7 However, if you are exposed to the flu virus before your immunity is built up from the flu vaccination, you may get flu.7

Like all vaccines, flu vaccination can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. For example, you may experience a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the vaccine, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.5 If you experience any side effects, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse.

Getting the flu vaccination every year is recommended because the flu virus is different every year.1

Talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice about flu and flu vaccination.

  • 1. NHS Inform Scotland. Flu. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 2. NHS. Flu. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 3. World Health Organization. Influenza (seasonal). Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 4. NHS. Who should have the flu vaccine? Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 5. NHS. Flu vaccine overview. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 6. NHS. Facts about the flu and flu vaccine. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 7. NHS. How the flu vaccine works. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].

Date of preparation: November 2020 | MAT-GB-2001681(v1.0)