Your guide to influenza and the flu vaccine


The flu vaccine lowers your risk of becoming seriously ill with influenza and limits the spread of infection to others. Here's what you need to know about the flu and the vaccine.

Most people who get flu experience mild illness with symptoms like fever, a dry cough, headaches, muscle and joint pains, and a sore throat and runny nose. But for others, the flu can result in complications, which can result in them being admitted to hospital.

The flu vaccine lowers your risk of becoming sick with the flu and limits the spread of infection to others.

What are the symptoms of flu?

According to the NICD, the most common symptoms are:

  • A sudden onset of fever
  • Muscle pains and body aches
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Feeling tired or unwell
  • Headaches

If the flu is mild, symptoms start one to four days after infection and last for two to seven days. For most people, the symptoms usually go away without treatment. Severely ill patients should be admitted to hospital, as serious flu can cause death.

How is flu treated?

"Most people need bed rest, lots of fluids, and paracetamol to help with fever or aches," says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Discovery Health's Chief Clinical Officer. "Doctors may prescribe antiviral medicines for more severe cases of flu, especially if the patient is at risk of serious illness."

  • Why we shouldn't take antibiotics to treat flu. Dr Nematswerani explains: "Flu is an illness caused by a virus, which means antibiotics - which are designed to treat illnesses caused by bacteria - should not be used to treat flu unless it gets worse and there are signs of a bacterial illness. Your healthcare provider will guide you on this."

How much protection does the flu vaccine give me against serious flu?

"Flu vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies in the body about two weeks after you get the vaccination. These antibodies protect against infection and serious illness," says Dr Nematswerani. "We have access to new flu vaccines every year because flu viruses change quickly. The vaccines (which research shows will be dominant) are made to match new flu variants as closely as possible."

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on:

  • Your immune system and response to the vaccine
  • How well-matched each year's flu vaccines are to the strains of the flu virus that are circulating during the year's flu season.

"In general, flu vaccines are about 40 to 60% effective in preventing flu illness in healthy adults. This is a very good degree of protection, which we would not have without the vaccine," Dr Nematswerani explains.

The flu vaccine cannot cause the flu because it does not contain a live virus

Receiving a flu vaccination cannot give you the flu. It simply allows your body to develop the antibodies needed to ward off influenza viruses.

Dr Nematswerani says: "Keep in mind it takes about two weeks after your flu jab to develop antibodies to the flu. Some people get sick after their vaccination, but it's not the vaccine that caused this. It's more likely that they were exposed to the flu virus before or during the two weeks needed to develop antibodies. And we can also get other illnesses, like the common cold, that can have similar symptoms to the flu."

  • For most people, it's much safer to get a flu vaccination than to have the flu: As Dr Nematswerani explains, "Flu vaccines are safe and well tolerated. In some people, they might cause pain or redness and swelling at the injection site, or a headache, fever, or muscle or joint aches. These clear up within a day or so and are just a sign that your immune system has been stimulated."
  • Can the flu vaccine cause serious health problems? In very rare cases (one in a million), people might have a bad allergic reaction to a flu vaccine, chat to your doctor if you want more information before being vaccinated.

Talk to your doctor first if you:

  • Had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past
  • Are allergic to chicken eggs
  • If you ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome

If you have a moderate or severe Illness with a fever, wait until you feel better before having a flu vaccine.

Who should not get a flu vaccine?

Children younger than six months of age and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine (other than egg proteins).

How do my scheme benefits cover my flu shot?

Discovery Health Medical Scheme pays for one seasonal flu vaccine a year for members who are at a high risk of getting severe flu illness:

  • If you are considered a high risk, the Screening and Prevention Benefit will cover your flu shot every year.
  • If you are not considered to be at high risk, your flu shot is covered by your available day-to-day benefits, if applicable.

If your healthcare provider charges for giving you the vaccine, we will pay for these costs from your available day-to-day benefits.

Where can you get your flu vaccine?

Book a visit at your healthcare provider or nearest pharmacy for your shot. Call them before you go to make sure they have the flu vaccine in stock.

Log in

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id