1. Flu is not the same as a cold

Flu is caused by a virus that is very easy to spread through coughing, sneezing and touching surfaces, but flu is not the same as the common cold. It is caused by a different group of viruses, and the effects are different.

2. Flu spreads easily

Flu is spread mostly in droplets of saliva and mucous that are dispersed through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.1,2 For a short period of time, these droplets can hang in the air, where other people breathe them in, or the droplets land on surfaces where the virus can exist for up to 24–48 hours.1 People can then pick up the virus by touching these surfaces and then touching their face.

3. Healthy people can get flu

Around 15–20% of people in the UK are infected with flu each year.3 It can be hard to tell who has flu just by looking at someone: about 1 in 3 people infected by the flu virus will not show any symptoms but can still spread flu.4 People who have certain health conditions are at risk of more serious illness or complications if they catch flu.1

4. Flu symptoms can make you feel unwell

You can start to feel symptoms of flu quickly and could spend a week or more with:4

  • Fever (38°C/100.4°F or above)
  • Headache
  • Body aches and pains
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Weakness
  • Extreme tiredness while also having trouble sleeping

5. Flu vaccination helps reduce the risk of serious flu effects

Flu vaccination can help protect you and others against getting and spreading flu.5 It can help reduce the risk of the more serious effects of flu.5 People with certain health conditions are more likely to experience serious effects if they catch flu.5 A flu vaccination is offered free of charge on the NHS to eligible people who are considered at risk, even if they feel well.5,6

6. Injectable flu vaccination cannot give you flu

The injectable flu vaccination cannot give you flu; it can help reduce the risk of the more serious effects of flu.5,7

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’.8 Your body may take 10–14 days to ‘teach’ your immune system to work against the influenza strains contained in the flu vaccination. 8 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. 8 However, if you are exposed to the flu virus before your immunity is built up from the flu vaccination, you may get flu.8

Some people may experience side effects, such as soreness around the injection site.6

7. Flu vaccination is recommended to help protect against flu

In addition to practising good hygiene, getting your flu vaccination is recommended by the NHS and other international health organisations as an important step that can help stop you from getting and spreading flu.1,9 Getting the flu vaccination every year is recommended because the flu virus is different every year.1

8. You can get your flu vaccination in autumn or winter

The best time to have flu vaccination is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to the end of November.6 Don’t worry if you miss this time period – you can still help protect against flu by having the vaccination later in winter.6 When you get your flu vaccination, you will be offered the one that’s recommended for your age group.6

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

You can keep feeling tired for weeks after catching flu and may have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better. 1

  • 1. NHS Inform Scotland. Flu. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
    2. Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Influenza. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 3. NHS Thurrock Clinical Commissioning Group. Flu vaccine myth busters. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 4. Vaccine Knowledge Project. Influenza (flu). Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 5. NHS. Who should have the flu vaccine? Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 6. NHS. Flu vaccine overview. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 7. NHS. Facts about the flu and flu vaccine. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 8. NHS. How the flu vaccine works. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].
  • 9. Public Health England. Public health matters – Flu vaccination: What you need to know about this year’s vaccine. Available at: [Last accessed November 2020].

Date of preparation: November 2020 | MAT-GB-2001689-(v1.0)