By Dr Karen Robinson
Saturday morning dance class… (not mine of course, my daughter’s). I’m safely nestled in the nice warm coffee shop next door, sipping on a latte. Thing is, I’m surrounded by sniffles, coughs and runny noses and there’s not nearly as many tissues being used as I’d like. “Please don’t splutter over me”, I cringe silently… Argh! I’ve chosen virus central to have a coffee!
I remember my mum saying “You will catch cold. You will get the flu.”
Well I might catch their coughs and colds, but it is unlikely that I will get the flu. You see, I had my flu jab the day they arrived at the surgery.
Also, young children get a nasal spray flu vaccine at school. It’s actually more like nose drops. All those in year R to Year 4 get it. So, in a roundabout way, that nasal flu vaccine also helps protect me, their brothers and sisters and also the grownups because if the younger ones don’t get the flu, they can’t give it to other people. A ‘herd immunity’; you may already know about it.
All children aged two or above on August 31st, 2017 (but not yet in school) and children who have long-term health conditions (for example, asthma, diabetes) who are in Year 5 or above, will have been called in to be given the nasal spray vaccine at the surgery.
As I take another sip, I look around and hope that the chap sitting at the table next to me slurping his coffee has had the flu jab. He keeps clearing his throat. I think he may be coming down with something.
A lady joins him. “I need a break. My dad is down with the flu. He is in bed with a fever, sweating buckets. He keeps coughing and complaining he’s aching all over. I have never seen him so ill.”
“I kept telling him to come with me to the GP to get his jab, but you know what he’s like – ‘I’ve never had the flu so why should I bother with it now?’ It’s a good job I’ve had mine. The last time I had the flu I ended up in hospital with pneumonia ‘cos my immune system couldn’t fight it off so easily because of my diabetes!”.
(Top tip: The flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are in an ‘at risk’ group because they can get a serious complication like pneumonia and even die. https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaccinations/Pages/who-should-have-flu-vaccine.aspx)
I recognise the lady. She is a patient at my surgery. “Hello Doctor” she says. (Oh no, I thought, I’m not at work now! My cover’s blown!). “I read on Facebook that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. Is that true?”
Cue another episode of ‘Medical MythBusters’! The short answer is ‘no’, the vaccine can’t give you the flu. The flu jab contains inactive flu viruses and the nasal spray flu vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses. You might get a bit of a temperature as your body produces the antibodies to attack the viruses, but you can’t get the flu.
“Why do I need to have a flu jab every year?” she asks.
Flu viruses doing the rounds each year can be different strains so a new vaccine is produced each autumn/winter to protect against the flu viruses the experts predict to be the most likely culprits for that year. As flu can be caused by different flu viruses, the antibodies you get after actually having the flu will only protect you against that particular strain. The vaccine will protect you against the other predicted circulating strains too.
“Can dad have some antibiotics?” For the flu, the answer is no because flu is caused by viruses and antibiotics only work against bacteria. If you do get a bacterial chest infection (like pneumonia) as a complication of viral flu, you may need antibiotics to treat that.
Her dad does sound like he is quite ill, so I advise her to call 111 to speak to the out of hours GP, who will call her back and then see him. She does not need to take him to A&E but she shouldn’t leave it until Monday because may potentially have a complication from the flu, like pneumonia. A doctor would need to see him to advise on treatment.
“You look after your dad. Don’t you?” she says to the chap. “Hope you’ve had your jab!”
She is right. As his dad’s carer, he should have the flu jab because if he gets the flu he will be more likely to give it to his dad. Also if he gets ill someone else would have to look after his dad whilst he recovered.
Just as round two of Medical Mythbusters appears to be about to start my phone rings. “Can you collect your daughter? Her class has now finished.”
Is that the time already? Back to being mum!