ask pharmacist flu

Ask a Pharmacist – Colm Kennelly

Life Pharmacy’s Managing Pharmacist Colm Kennelly explains all about seasonal flu and how the flu vaccine works – featured in the Irish Independent’s ‘Mother & babies’ supplement 3 October 2018.

This month sees the start of the annual Flu Vaccine campaign and Pharmacists all over the country will be providing the vaccine to patients – many of us have been vaccinating for many years now and have seen the number of people availing of the service grow every year. Some people are still unsure about the Flu vaccine and how it works so here I will try and address some of those issues, and explain what seasonal flu is and how it can affect you.

What is seasonal flu (influenza)?

Seasonal flu is a highly infectious viral illness of the respiratory tract that can be life threatening. It can be life threatening in pregnant women and lead to premature birth. People with long term medical conditions and those aged 65 and over are also at risk of serious complications from flu.

How common is it?

Seasonal flu is a very common illness that often presents during the autumn and winter months. Figures of people who see their doctor with flu-like symptoms varies each year but it is estimated to be between 50 and 100 for every 100,000 people.

What are the symptoms of flu as opposed to a cold?

Flu symptoms come on suddenly with a fever of 38°C or above, muscle aches, headache and fatigue. Other symptoms of seasonal flu can include join pain, diarrhoea, sneezing, difficulty sleeping and a loss of appetite. A cold usually starts gradually with a sore throat and a blocked or runny nose and is a much less severe illness than flu.

If I do contract the flu, how long will it last for?

In general, flu symptoms peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel better after five to eight days. However, a cough and feelings of tiredness may last for up to three weeks.

Who are the at-risk patients?

Patients 65 years and older, persons 18-64 with a chronic illness e.g. asthma, chronic heart disease, MS, chronic renal disease, diabetes, chronic liver disease etc, all cancer patients, residents of nursing homes or other long-stay institutions, all pregnant women, those who are immuno-suppressed due to disease or treatment, people with regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl and persons with Downs Syndrome.

What is the flu vaccine?

Each year the flu vaccine contains three common flu virus strains – the virus changes each year and this is why a new flu vaccine has to be given each year. We commence vaccinating in mid-September and usually finish around January although people can get vaccinated later depending on the flu activity that season.

Pregnant women should be given the flu vaccine as they are at higher risk of severe complications from flu. The vaccine protects women during pregnancy and provides ongoing protection to their newborn baby during their first few months of life. The vaccine can be given at any stage of the pregnancy. The vaccine is safe in pregnancy and has been given for more than 60 years – reactions are generally mild and serious side effects are very rare.

If you have a history of severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine then you should not get the flu vaccine. If you have an egg allergy then your GP or hospital can give you an alternative vaccine.

Your Life pharmacist can provide the flu vaccine in our private consultation room in the pharmacy  – some of us book appointments and some of us operate walk in clinics – check with your local Life pharmacy. All pharmacists who administer the vaccine undergo regular training on an annual basis and also CPR training every 2 years as part of service.

The vaccine is free to people in the at-risk groups and to those with medical or GP visit cards otherwise your pharmacy will charge a fee for administration.

While you’re with us why not ask about some of our other services such as Blood Pressure checks, cholesterol and glucose checks, 24hr BP monitoring and some pharmacists are now offering the Pneumonia and the Shingles vaccine.

If I have not been vaccinated and develop seasonal flu, how can it be treated?

Always see your GP if you have flu-like symptoms if you are in an at-risk group, or if you have flu symptoms that are getting worse. Your doctor may prescribe medication. If you do not have an underlying medical condition and you are not in an at-risk group, treatment may not be required and you can manage these symptoms at home.  Flu is not treated with antibiotics as these treat bacterial and not viral infections and the flu is a virus. However, if you develop complications of flu, such as a chest infection, antibiotics may then prescribed. If you have the flu, it is important to rest and to drink plenty of fluids. Paracetamol-based cold remedies may relieve symptoms and lower your temperature. If younger members of the family develop flu, always check with your pharmacist before giving them any over-the-counter treatments and remember that remedies containing aspirin are not suitable for those under 16.


Colm Kennelly opened his pharmacy in Salthill in 2010 and joined the Life pharmacy group in 2016. Colm and his pharmacist Stephanie Fitzpatrick have been providing the flu vaccine for a number of years now and are experienced vaccinators.

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