Column: Avoiding flu - by Dr Simon Lowe

Boston GP Dr Simon Lowe gives his advice about avoiding flu this winter.

“Get off! Get off me!” the portly gentleman shouted with great concern.

“Now, now - there is nothing to worry about.” came the reassuring reply from the kind looking lady.

“Help! Help! They are trying to kill me,” the gentleman screamed appealing for assistance.

“Dr Lowe – I really must insist you stop making a fuss. It’s only a flu jab,” the nurse said firmly.

Yes dear readers I am sorry to say that the above is a fairly accurate record of what happened when I finally decided to have my first flu vaccination.

For years I had resisted the dreaded jab for fear of the needle, for concerns that the jab might make me feel unwell and because a certain bravado meant that I had a sense of invincibility.

All that changed two winters ago, however, when I contracted pneumonia as a result of flu and had to be admitted to hospital.

As I lay in my bed unable to breathe, convinced that I could hear the songs and harps of the heavenly throng and living in fear that the light bulb on the ceiling was the light that would guide my path to the hereafter, I promised myself that if I survived I would have the flu vaccination every year.

Now that we are getting the first nip of autumn in the air the thoughts of your GP surgery will be turning to the flu season.

For most people flu is an uncomfortable illness that lasts two to three weeks from which they make a full recovery, but ultimately causes no long term harm. For certain groups, however, contracting flu can be much more of a problem.

For the elderly the symptoms can be very debilitating and can result in being taken into hospital.

For those with heart and lung conditions it can put an excessive strain on already struggling organs and for some, like me, it can cause a rather nasty form of pneumonia.

Every year thousands of potentially avoidable deaths are associated with flu.

We can all do our bit to try to reduce the misery of flu.

We can make sure that we do our best to stop the spread of the virus by using tissues when we cough and sneeze and then disposing of the tissue rapidly, by keeping our hands clean, and by reducing our contact with other people when we are ill.

For certain groups the NHS provides free vaccinations to reduce the risk of contracting the virus – pregnant women, the over 65s, those with heart, lung or kidney disease, people with diabetes and those who have had a stroke are all eligible for the jab.

Many people put off having the flu jab for fear it will actually give them flu. This is not true. The vaccine does not contain any live virus and so cannot transmit the illness.

Some people do develop a little muscle aching and a temperature for a few days after the vaccination but this is normally only a mild effect and due to the immune system learning how to fight the virus should the time arise. Other people think that having the jab one year means that they don’t need it another year.

Unfortunately for us humans the flu virus is a clever little critter and is constantly changing so that we need to be vaccinated every year to keep our immune system up to date

If you are one of the people eligible for the vaccination or you receive an invitation from your GP please make an appointment to attend one of their flu clinics or see one of the practice nurses to get the jab done – it might save your life.

I certainly would not want anybody to have to experience what I did as I thought I was gasping my last few breaths.

I would not be without my flu jab ever again – even if the practice nurses do need to chase me around the surgery to give it to me.