Flu, also known as influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus, usually influenza A or B. The flu viruses constantly change so this winter’s flu strains will be slightly different from previous years. Flu can affect anyone but if people have a long-term health condition, the effects of flu can make it worse even if the health condition is well managed and they normally feel well.

Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:

  • a sudden high temperature
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active. They may also present differently with flu – for example, without fever but with diarrhoea.

People with the flu can be infectious 1 day before to 3 to 5 days after symptoms appear and the virus is spread by breathing in droplets coughed out into the air by infected people or by the droplets landing on mucous membranes. Transmission may also occur by direct or indirect contact with respiratory secretions for example via soiled tissues or from contaminated surfaces. Flu spreads easily in crowded populations and in enclosed spaces.

To reduce the risk of spreading flu

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible
  • get the flu vaccine

What you need to do

Anyone unwell and with a high temperature should stay at home and avoid contact with other people until their temperature is normal and they are well enough to return to work or school

Protect yourself

The risk of infection can be minimised through the flu vaccination. The vaccine is safe and effective and is offered every year through the NHS to help protect people at risk of getting seriously ill from flu.


For more information on the flu vaccine, please visit the Flu vaccines page.


Children in primary school and up to Year 11 in secondary school will receive their vaccine in the school setting. Children aged 2 and 3 on 31 August will receive their vaccine in the GP setting. Your child’s School or GP will contact you about getting vaccinated before the winter.

Flu is a disease that spreads very rapidly, potentially causing widespread illness, especially in those who are already vulnerable because of their age or medical condition. So, if children are vaccinated against flu, they will not only benefit directly by being protected themselves but will also reduce the spread of flu and help protect their families, older relatives and the whole population. In particular, they will help to protect those children and adults who cannot or do not have the vaccine. With the flu season rapidly approaching, it will also help to reduce pressure on the NHS and other vital services.

There are different types of flu, known as ‘strains.’ Each year, the flu vaccine must be changed to try and match the strains you can catch that winter. It’s also more effective some years than others. This depends on whether the vaccine is a good match for the type of flu going around. Having the flu vaccine each year will give you the best chance of protection.

No. As with all immunisations, flu vaccinations for children are optional. However, this vaccine will help protect them from what can be an unpleasant illness, as well as stopping them spreading flu to vulnerable friends and relatives who may become seriously ill from the flu.

Most children will be offered the Fluenz nasal spray. This is a single spray squirted up each nostril. It is needle free, quick and painless.

Yes, the vaccine contains a highly processed form of gelatine that is derived from pigs – porcine gelatine. This gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable to ensure it provides the best protection against flu.

Yes, the injectable flu vaccine is a good alternative for children who cannot have the nasal flu vaccine due to religious reasons. The injectable vaccine does not contain porcine and is safe and effective.

No, the nasal spray flu vaccine contains small amounts of weakened flu viruses and does not cause flu in children. The injectable flu vaccine is inactivated and cannot cause flu in those that are vaccinated.

The vaccine will help your child build up immunity to flu in a similar way as natural infection, but without symptoms. Because the main flu viruses change each year, a new flu vaccine has to be given each year.

You may be asked to wait until your child is better before having the nasal spray flu vaccine if they have a very blocked or runny nose – these might stop the vaccine getting into their system or a high temperature. Sometimes an injected vaccine may be offered instead. Catch up clinics will be available if your child does miss their vaccination.

The flu vaccine takes 14 days to develop a full immune response.

Flu vaccines are very safe. Side effects of the nasal spray flu vaccine are mild and do not last long. They can include a runny or blocked nose, a headache, tiredness, and loss of appetite. For the injected flu vaccine, most side effects are also mild and do not last long. They can include a sore arm (or thigh) where the injection was given, a slightly raised temperature and aching muscles. Side effects for both types of vaccination usually last for 1 and 2 days.

If you have a child with a long-term health condition, you can ask the GP surgery to give them the vaccine instead of them having it at school if you prefer.

Vaccination UK who delivers the school aged vaccination programme will offer catch up sessions in the community where you will be able to book an appointment for your child to be vaccinated. They can also arrange for your child to have any other school-aged vaccinations that they may have missed.

Having a flu vaccine is the most effective way to reduce your risk of catching flu. However, having the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you won’t catch the flu. Any child who catches flu after vaccination is less likely to be seriously ill or be admitted to hospital.

For more information on the flu vaccine for children click the following links:


Flu Fighters Versus Chilly, Achy and Snotty


Flu Fighters in… The Battle of Planet Bogey


Flu Fighters in Close Encounters of the Germed Kind


Flu Fighters on a Vacc-tastic Voyage