As we head towards winter, family doctors are preparing for cold and flu season.

About 5 – 10% of the population each year will get the flu. This can range from mild with ‘cough and cold’-like symptoms through to life-threatening illness or secondary infection on top of the initial effects of the virus.

People who have chronic illness or poor immune systems, or are over the age of 65 are at higher risk of more severe illness.

The Australian Government offers free flu vaccinations to people aged 65 or older; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over; pregnant women; and people aged six months and over with medical conditions predisposing them to severe influenza.

If you are over 65, living with chronic diseases like heart disease, HIV, lung disease or other long-term medical issues, ask your doctor if you are eligible for a free flu vaccination.

Other people who should consider getting a flu vaccine include people working in health care; people who have a lot of exposure to members of the general public, for example, shop assistants; people living with people who have chronic illness; people considering international travel during the flu season.

While not everyone can receive the flu vaccine for free, it is worth considering if getting sick was to significantly impact your life, livelihood or the people around you.

The flu vaccine is grown in eggs. If you have severe allergic reactions to eggs you should not have the vaccine.

If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine, or if you are allergic to any of its components, it is not recommended to have another.

Because the flu injection does not contain live virus, it is safe to administer to people living with HIV. While not offered in Australia, the attenuated live virus nasal spray should not be used in people who are HIV positive.

People who have had Guillain-Barré syndrome after the flu vaccine should discuss with their doctor the potential risks and benefits of having another.

The vaccine’s most common side effect is that the injection site can be a bit sore and reddened. About one in 10 people may have a mild fever and feel a little off-colour for a day or two.

This is not the flu but your body’s immune system ramping up.

Protection against the flu is highest two weeks after your injection and lasts for six to 12 months.

The 2012 flu vaccination is now available so talk to your doctor sooner rather than later.

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