Flu is evil. The influenza virus, usually known as flu, is one of the most dangerous diseases you're likely to catch this year. For the lucky people reading this who've never had the flu, traditional wisdom states that the difference between a cold and flu is that when you have the flu, you wouldn't get out of bed even if it were raining £50 notes. It's easy to catch, it's easy to pass on, and it can survive on lift buttons, door handles and chip and pin machines for a whole day, just waiting for its next victim.
Most people who catch flu will suffer a week of feeling terrible, with a high temperature, aches and pains, coughing, sneezing, and a sore throat. For older people, very young children, and people with certain medical conditions, it can be much worse, and can lead to chest infections and other complications. The World Health Organisation states that the most effective way to prevent catching the flu is vaccination: the flu jab.
You could get it for free. If you have a long term medical condition, are pregnant, are over 65, care for someone, or work in health and social care, you can have the flu jab for free at your local GP.
Even if you have to pay, it's cheaper than getting the flu. Can you afford to take a week off work at short notice? Many large supermarkets now offer the flu jab for less than the price of 3 boxes of tissues, a lemon flavoured drink and a bottle of cough syrup.
It protects your colleagues, friends and family too. Remember that time your boss coughed on everyone in the office and passed on his germs to the entire staff? Remember that party where one person gave everyone the sickness bug (naming no names)? Don't be that guy; get the flu jab.
It can't give you flu.Vaccines work by teaching your body what the threat looks like so it knows how to fight it without you becoming ill. This means that there is flu in the flu vaccine, but a declawed version that can't do any harm. It's like teaching someone sword-fighting by attacking them with a foam sword; it's still sword shaped, but pretty harmless.
Sometimes you hear people say "Last time I had the flu jab I caught the flu." This is a myth. Flu has an incubation period of up to four days. This means it can hide in your body after you've caught it, and then make you ill a few days later. If you have the flu jab within those four days, it can't stop you catching what you've already caught, and won't stop you feeling unwell. This is why it's important to get your flu jab sooner, rather than later.
It's not poisonous. Some of the ingredients in the flu jab might sound scary, but they're all safety tested, and all in there for a reason. Most of the ingredients are things you'll encounter every day anyway; the preservative used is the same one found in bread, and though some vaccines use mercury, there's more mercury in a tin of tuna. If you've eaten a tuna sandwich lately and survived, you'll be fine to have to have the flu jab.
Getting flu last year doesn't stop you getting flu this year. Different strains of flu spread at different rates every year, so any immunity you gained last year probably won't work this year. The scientists who make the flu vaccine predict which strains are going to do the rounds every year and make the vaccine to match, which is why you need a new flu jab every year.
It doesn't hurt (much). It hurts a lot less than having your ears pierced and takes less time to heal than a new tattoo, so if you've volunteered yourself for either of these cosmetic procedures then you won't have any problem with the very quick injection. It can seem scary, so if you know you have a fear of needles, it might help to take a friend with you for support, and to ask the nurse to keep the needle out of sight as much as possible.
Supplements and alternative remedies won't protect you. The only ways to stop flu are to wash your hands regularly to reduce your risk of spreading it from surface to surface, and to get your flu jab. Vitamin C, echinacea and zinc will not prevent the flu. And as for homeopathy, it's not real.
You can tweet it. Take a picture of yourself outside your GP with the hashtag #haveyouhadyourflujab and remind your friends to vaccinate, not procrastinate.