GP says smile to beat the flu

For years research has indicated that being happier can contribute to physical wellbeing, and now new research appears to show that it can even positively impact on the effectiveness of a flu jab.

As people begin thinking about booking-up their annual flu vaccination, Nottingham University has released research that appears to show people who were happiest when they went for their autumn flu jab were better protected from getting ill.

The researchers followed 138 people aged 65 to 85 who were monitored both before and after their shots, measuring a number of wellbeing indicators, such as sleep, mood, and stress.

The team found that greater levels of positive mood were associated with higher blood levels of antibodies to H1N1, a potentially dangerous flu strain, at both four and 16 weeks post-vaccination. But they also found that positive mood on the day of vaccination was more influential than the surrounding period.

Dr Asim Hasan, Care UK’s regional medical director for primary care in London, said: “The Brain, Behaviour and Immunity study is an interesting and timely reminder for those 65 and over, or who are pregnant, have certain medical conditions or are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person, to book in for their jab at their GP’s surgery.”

So, what should patients do with the news? Dr Hasan added: “While the researchers acknowledge future research needs to be done on the subject, taking positive action to boost your mood on the day of your jab can’t do any harm and may do some good.”

Dr Hasan’s top ideas for boosting pre-jab mood include:

  • Watching a favourite feel-good or comedy film or TV show before leaving the house
  • Meeting up with or having a Skype conversation with friends or family
  • Watching your favourite things on the internet, such as kittens or bands
  • Finding a nice coffee shop near the surgery and indulging in a piece of cake
  • If you are fit enough, doing a session of exercise to boost your endorphin levels
  • Arriving 10 minutes early for your appointment and sitting, vividly imagining the fun you will have at Christmas, without flu, or picturing yourself on a tropical beach with the sun on your face.

“It is very important to get a jab if you are in one of the vulnerable groups or you care for someone who is. The effects of flu come on quickly and usually include fever and aching muscles, making you feel too unwell to continue your usual activities. For those who are more vulnerable these can be exacerbated by complications such as pneumonia and sinus and ear infections, as well as making conditions such as asthma and chronic heart disease worse.

“In the worst cases, serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues and multi-organ failure. Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can also trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection, which is why you must get the jab if you are in the groups or your GP or nurse practitioner tells you that you should.”