There are three main ways of preventing flu: the flu vaccination, good hygiene (such as handwashing and cleaning) and antiviral medication.
The flu vaccine
The annual flu vaccine can help reduce your risk of getting flu each year, although it's not 100% effective because it doesn't work against every possible type of flu virus.
A flu vaccine is available for free on the NHS for:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or lung disease)
- children and adults with weakened immune systems
Adults over 18 and children aged six months to less than two years in these groups are given an annual injection, while children aged two to 17 are given an annual nasal spray.
The annual nasal spray is also given to children aged two and three, and to children in reception class and school years one, two, three and four.
The best time to have the vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to early November. If you think you need it, contact your local GP surgery or local pharmacy. Find your nearest GP surgery here.
You should have the flu vaccination every year so you stay protected. The viruses that cause flu change every year, so this winter's flu will be different from last winter's.
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To reduce your risk of getting flu or spreading it to other people, you should always:
- make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water
- clean surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly to get rid of germs
- use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible
Read more about preventing the spread of germs.
Taking the antiviral medicines oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) to prevent flu is recommended if all of the following apply:
- there is a lot of flu around
- you're over 65, pregnant, or have a medical condition that puts you at risk of complications of flu, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease
- you have been in contact with someone with a flu-like illness and can start antiviral treatment within 36-48 hours
- you have not had the flu vaccination or doctors think the vaccination hasn't been effective
If there's an outbreak of flu in a residential or nursing home – where the flu virus can often spread very quickly – antiviral medication may be offered to people if they have been in contact with someone with confirmed flu.
For more information, read the guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on antivirals to prevent influenza.